By: Angela B
Disclaimer: not mine and never will be
Note: Thanks to NT for her helpfulness
Note: Follows Midnight Thoughts
(Moved to Blackraptor January 2010)
It had been four days since Buck had informed Ezra of all the changes that were going to happen in their lives: a new school, a new home, living with Chris for a while. Buck had promised him though that they would be all right and Ezra’s guardian’s words were beginning to be good enough for him, so the little boy didn’t worry. Too much.
Another new change, though already planned and expected, was starting the day care program. Ezra had known this change was going to happen ever since he came to live with Buck. In the first week, Buck had stayed home with him, then last week; during his first awful week at school, he had been allowed to go up to where Buck worked and stay. This past week though, Buck had started taking him to the day care after picking him up from school. Buck wanted to space out the changes as much as possible. This week, it would be the daycare, next week the new school and the following week they’d be moving in with Chris and Vin. Buck was hoping that by spreading out the changes, even by a few days, it would be less traumatic on the child than trying to do all the changes at one time.
Ezra hadn’t been as scared about going to the daycare as he might have been if he had been dumped there in the very beginning with no knowledge of the place, but Vin had told him all about it. Most of the kids in the after-school program were picked up by one of the seven fifteen-passenger vans. The age ranges for the kids were mostly six to twelve years old. There were only a couple five-year-olds because most of them went to the kindergarten program at the daycare. Buck had thought about enrolling Ezra in it, but had thought that with Ezra’s higher intelligence, the child would be placed in a higher grade-level and kindergarten was as high as the daycare provided. Buck had regretted his decision when he first learned of his son’s problems at school that first week, but on the other hand the hard lesson learned had Buck moving into a new home with his son and a better school system. Sometimes the wrong path leads you to the right road.
Since Buck and him had skipped out of school and work early the previous day, the first day at daycare was a Tuesday, which was a block away form the federal building. After the bombing in Oklahoma, many federal daycare centers were moved away from the actual federal building. Buck parked the car and walked Ezra into a big building. The lobby was not that big itself and closely monitored by cameras. The director met Buck at the desk and proceeded to show the pair around.
The first thing they were showed was the infirmary, which was located off from the main office. It also had its own door leading outside. The infirmary was set up in circular shape with six isolation rooms and the nurse’s desk in the middle. Every room had a cot and TV/VCR combo. The director explained the nurse, who was at the moment busy with a child, was a retired certified RN. Buck could use the infirmary for Ezra any time the child was sick and Buck had no one else to care for the child. Though Buck got the impression that if Ezra was very sick, he should be staying home. Buck understood that idea.
They then walked back to the office and started the tour. They walked down a short hallway and passed through a small childproof gate into a large spacious area filled with small plastic slides and climbing toys. On either side of the room were three doors. This was were the little ones were looked after. The two, three and four year olds. Walking through the big room they came to another hallway. Both sides of the hall were decorated with children’s art. At the back of the building on one side was a cafeteria and on the other was a very large room. This was were the after school kids went. In here, they could do their homework, read, draw, paint, or by going out the back doors; go out into the closed off yard. There were tire swings, a sand box, regular swings and a big area to play ball in.
Buck had stayed with Ezra until the school kids arrived. Buck had learned that appearances meant a great deal to his new son and having his ‘daddy’ there made Ezra uncomfortable. Buck had told Ezra that none of the kids knew he was his foster child and that to their knowledge Ezra was his son, unless Ezra chose to tell them differently.
Vin met Buck going out as the small nephew charged his way in. “Hey Buck! Ezra here?” the small boy asked.
“Yep, he’s in the back,” Buck replied.
“Cool,” Vin said and headed for the back throwing a “Bye” over his shoulder.
Buck had just laughed and called a “bye” of his own to empty space.
When Buck and Chris went to pick their sons up that night, they found the boys playing in the big play area up near the front. After the number of children dwindled down to a certain number they were all put into the big playroom, so some of the staff could leave. The staffing in the early mornings and late evenings was staggered to fit the number of children. The fewer children the less staff required.
There had been more than one time that Vin had been one of the last to be picked, though Chris tried to make it a rare occasion. Either, one of the guys would pick Vin up and take him home with them, or if they were all going to be really late, Mrs. Wells picked him up and cared for him until he got home. Chris could see an advantage to Buck moving out close to him. Buck very seldom stayed past his five o’clock time and therefore would now be able to take Vin with him if Chris had to stay late.
Buck kept his and Ezra’s evening ritual the same. But after Ezra went to bed, JD would come down and the two men would work on the design for the new house. The younger agent had bought a computer 3-D design program. The two men would debate, experiment and design the rooms while Ezra slept. They needed to get an assessment of how much bigger Buck was planning on making it because the coming weekend Chris was borrowing a tractor with a grader on it, so they could level out the land for the cement foundation to be poured. Using the program they laid out the electrical and telephone lines, plumbing, the whole works. It would save planning and problems in the future.
It was finally Friday. Ezra had coped well with his other teacher, but it hadn’t changed Buck’s mind about moving. Ezra felt no loss when he bid his goodbyes before climbing up into the cab of Buck’s truck. This weekend was going to be busy and exciting. Tomorrow he was going to go see his what would be his new home for the first time. Ezra tried to control himself, but he couldn’t help it, he was excited. He never had a real home before. The word had never exited in his vocabulary. He had either been bounced from relative to relative, lived in hotels with Maude, or in fine homes that were more like museums when Maude hooked her claws into one of her victims, otherwise known as husbands. At age five, Ezra had already had two stepdads. Neither of them had lasted more than year.
That night was the same as the other Friday nights Ezra had been having since arriving to live with Buck. The five men and two boys would meet up at a little out-of the-way diner and sit and talk. The boys got to play with the jukebox, using the owner’s coins and even play ‘helper’ with some of the customers.
After the arrival of Vin, the men, who were used to congregating at the local saloon, started changing their hangout. They still occasionally went to Inez’s, but it really wasn’t a place for children. Then with the addition of Ezra, it just added to the fact. At the new place, the guys could still kick back and know the boys were in a safe environment.
Sometimes the men would share tales of busts they had performed, cleaned up of course and only the ones that were humorous in some way. JD was in the midst of retelling Ezra and Vin of taking down some bootleggers they had arrested in the early days after the team formed. A man, watering down liquor with kerosene, had been selling the new version to local small-time bars. The young agent had been modifying the story to make it kid-acceptable and finally got to the part he thought was funniest; a barrel of pressurized liquor had exploded during the arrests, soaking Chris and Buck completely in the foul-smelling liquid. JD suddenly threw his hands up in the air at the same time exclaiming loudly, “Kaboom!” Reenacting how the barrels splintered apart. JD got a reaction, but not the one he wanted or would ever forget. Ezra, who was sitting between Buck and JD drinking a vanilla milkshake, was listening intently to the story being told. He would have to admit most of the men were pretty good storytellers and the stories told were usually pretty funny. When JD unexpectantly threw his hands up and yelled, Ezra’s life learned lessons kicked in. The small boy ducked down into a ball in his seat and covered his head with his arms, his heart pounding with fear and anticipation. The five men and Vin sitting at the table froze and became instantly silent. Ezra had never displayed this behavior before and Buck was temporarily at a loss of what to do, but instincts quickly kicked in and the big man wrapped his arms around the little figure.
“Hey, buddy. It’s okay,” Buck said, lowering himself over the huddled boy.
With one arm wrapped around the small waist, Buck eased his other arm under scrunched legs and pulled Ezra into his lap. “You’re okay, Ezra. JD didn’t mean any harm,” Buck cooed reassuringly.
JD was bewildered to say the least and annoyed at himself for scaring the little boy. Thankfully, to Ezra’s relief, Josiah started up another conversation and the attention on the little boy was diverted. JD watched Ezra from the corner of his eye and once he could physically see the child relaxing, he scooted over into the vacant chair and leaned over to talk to his new nephew.
“Ezra?” JD whispered. When he received no response, he continued on anyway. “I’m really sorry. I would never hurt you. Okay, pal?”
The youngest agent lightly put his hand on the bony back and began rubbing soft circles. “I am really sorry, Ezra. Honest.”
Ezra lifted his head. After figuring out he was all right, Ezra had kept it buried in Buck’s chest not so much out of fear, but out of humiliation. Turning his head to tell the agent it was all right, Ezra was surprised by the look of sadness in the JD’s eyes. Ezra turned his whole body around in Buck’s lap and stared into the troubled blue eyes. He was unsure why the man would be so troubled by something that clearly wasn’t his fault. Ezra was sure it was his own fault for not being in better control of himself.
“It wasn’t your fault. It was mine,” Ezra said matter-of-factly.
JD wasn’t sure why the child thought it was his fault, but he wasn’t going to let Ezra take blame for it. “Nope. Sorry pal it was mine. I was the one telling the story. I should have thought first.”
Ezra was clearly uncomfortable with the situation. He wasn’t sure how to deal with an adult who took responsibility for his actions and as always the case when he was with these men; he was also trying to deal with the fact that these adults seemed to care about him. He didn’t think he would ever become accustom to that. Ezra finally figured the only way out of the uncomfortable situation was to smile and release the man of any feelings.
“It’s okay,” Ezra said sweetly.
“Then we’re good?” JD asked, holding out his hand.
“Yes, sir. We’re good,” Ezra replied, not entirely sure what they were good at or for, but shook the hand nonetheless.
When Ezra had ducked and covered, Vin had felt his stomach tighten up. He remembered how it was to feel that fear. Glancing up at his dad, Vin took a deep breath and felt the same reassurance and safety he always felt when he thought about his dad.
Seeing Ezra duck down and hide from the imagined harm had Chris immediately looking at his own son. There had been similar instances with Vin after taking in the abused child. Seeing his son now was like looking at a whole different person. Chris reached over and put his hand on Vin’s back in a comforting move. Smilling down at Vin, he couldn’t help but be proud of his son. Vin had come such a long way and Chris had taken each step his son had taken to being the child he was today. There were times when Vin still needed counseling, but only when he became extremely upset or something out of the past would roar to life. Usually, though, the child just sought out the school counselor and talked things out when he became overburden. Chris knew that Buck had a long road in front of him, but it would be worth every bit in the end.
Josiah saw that the child had moved back to his seat and was once again on level ground. Turning his attention to the young boy, he asked, “So Ezra? You ready to see that new house tomorrow?”
Ezra had yet seen where they were moving too, because the week had been so hectic. Ezra was full of curiosity to see what the house looked like. Buck had told him it wasn’t much to look at right now, but when the men were through with it, it would be a great home to live in.
Nodding his head, Ezra said replied, “Yes sir.”
Josiah smiled back at the polite little charmer and wondered how long it would be before the child felt comfortable enough with them to stop addressing them in such a fashion. As a criminal psychologist, he had figured out the formal addressing was just one way to keep them at arm’s length and not let them too close. The profiler smiled to himself as he realized the child at least let Buck comfort him. It was a start.
The nights ended earlier these days. There was no more hanging out until midnight or drinking the bar closed. Now, it was calling it quits by nine, and tucking in kids by ten. Buck couldn’t imagine why he had once thought that life had been so fun as he carried Ezra into the house asleep in his arms. He would have to deal with Ezra’s reaction tonight and soon, but tucking the boy into bed in his blue pajamas with trains on them, Buck felt more alive at that moment than he had in long time.
The next morning Ezra woke to the smell of frying bacon and hurriedly got out of bed. Today, they went to see the house. He made his small twin bed as best, as his five-year coordination would let him and got dressed. He knew without argument that today was a blue jean and t-shirt day. He retrieved a pair of socks from the chest of drawers and found his shoes at the foot of his bed. Slipping on the simple tennis shoes, he smiled as he remembered how Buck had taught him to tie his own shoes and how proud the guardian was of him when he did it on his own. Buck always made the simplest things seem like great accomplishments. He quit his daydreaming and started to rush towards the kitchen. Catching himself, he slowed his pace and walked into the kitchen.
Buck was at the stove tending to the bacon, he had heard the first few steps of running and then silence. One day, he figured he could get Ezra to realize it was all right to run through the house like a normal little boy. Of course, Buck realized then he would be like his own mom and be telling the boy to stop running in the house. Buck shook his head at the image. Ezra walked into the kitchen and glanced at the oven and grinned. They were having biscuits, too. He loved biscuits slathered with butter and warm honey. He could forgo the eggs and bacon and just eat the biscuits. Buck turned to see his charge and broke out into a huge grin as he caught the youngster eyeing the oven.
“Mornin’,” Buck said cheerfully.
“Good morning, Mr. Buck,” Ezra replied.
“You want to turn on the oven light and check those biscuits for me?” Buck asked.
Ezra nodded and pulled his little step stool he used to help Buck do dishes with and placed it in front of the oven. Pushing the button that turned on the light, he gazed into the oven. Saliva filled his mouth as the delicate biscuits rose. Ezra licked his lips in anticipation.
“Hey, can you set the table?” Buck said, breaking into the little boy’s thoughts.
Ezra once again answered politely and set about getting out the napkins, silverware and the glasses. He could manage to get the glasses without problems, but the plates were to heavy to get down out of the cupboards. Buck reached over and pulled two plates down for them and another plate for the bacon. The two worked together and finally sat down to their meal.
It was taking less time to eat it than it had to make it, Buck realized as he watched the little boy across the table chow down on his fifth biscuit. The fried egg had been eaten first and the bacon had been left untouched. Buck decided it was time to bring up the events from the previous night.
“Ezra,” Buck spoke calmly as he slathered jelly onto his own biscuit. “I want to talk about last night.”
Ezra had been just about to bite into his biscuit when Buck spoke. The words chilling him to the bone, he froze in dread and fear. He thought perhaps he would be lucky enough to escape punishment for his lack of self-control for the previous evenings performance. He had not meant to embarrass Buck in front of his friends. Slowly, he laid his biscuit down on his plate. Keeping his eyes downcast in subjecation, he quietly asked. “What punishment do you wish, sir?” He had always believed it was better to know what was coming and accept it than try to worm his way out of it. That way always ended with worse consequences.
Buck was thrown for a loop. He sat there trying to regain his breath as murderous thoughts filled his head for the one who had taught this boy nothing happened without a consequence. Taking several deep breaths of air, he finally felt calm enough to carry through the discussion.
“Ezra, please come here,” he asked softly, holding out his hand.
Ezra slid his eyes sideways and saw the outreached hand. His heart felt heavy, as he had believed Buck was different form the previous people he had lived with. Now he figured Buck was the same as the others. Slowly he slid off the edge of his chair and walked over to the outreached hand. Closing his eyes, he tried to prepare for the pain that would surely follow. Instead he felt nothing. Ever so lightly, he opened his eyes. Buck was sitting still as a statue with a sorrowful look in his eyes. It would be the first time anyone showed they felt bad for what they were about to do him. Ezra lifted his eyes a little more until he was looking straight into the blue pools.
“Come here,” Buck whispered hoarsely, dropping his arm to his side.
Ezra drifted next to the chair where the big man sat. Then with a slowness and gentleness that completely confused the small child, Buck lifted him up onto his lap.
They sat staring at one another for a few minutes. Each one’s brain tumbling and turning with thoughts that could not yet be spoken. A minute or two passed before Buck cleared his throat and said, “If you never learn another thing while you are with me, I want you to learn this,” he paused. “Are you listening?” he asked seriously.
Ezra nodded his head solemnly, “Yes, Mr. Buck.”
“No matter what you ever do. Or no matter how upset I may become with you for whatever reason, I will never hit you, or lock you up, or any other horrible thing you can imagine.” Buck took a deep breath. “Do you understand me? he asked, his face belying the seriousness he felt.
Ezra studied that face for an eternity, searching for the truth he so badly wanted to be there and finding it. He finally nodded his head, his sandy-brown hair loosely bouncing ever so much. “Yes, sir,” he said.
Buck licked his lips before going on. “That doesn’t mean you’re not bound to do something that I won’t like. You are a boy after all,” he said, breaking into a smile and jostling Ezra a little to break the tension. “And I’m pretty sure there will be a time you will get into trouble; all boys do, and I will have to reprimand you for it. But I will never ever hurt you. Okay?”
Ezra had listened intently to each word his Mr. Buck had said. He said all boys got into trouble and he wondered if that went for Vin as well. He might gathered up the courage one day and ask. For now, at least Buck was warning him he would not get into trouble without a reprimand. He could live with the warning as long as he knew what was coming; he was better prepared. Once again, he slowly nodded his head.
“Okay,” Buck said, nodding his head at the thought that that part was out of the way. “Now about last night,” Buck restarted with the original conversation. He would shorten it to the point instead of talking it out like he had intended to in the beginning.
Ezra let out a low sigh and lowered his head. He had not been given the reprieve he had falsely been led into believing he had.
“I want you to understand the JD nor any of the other guys would ever hurt you; at least not intentionally. If they did they would have to deal with me personally,” Buck said soundly.
Ezra’s head snapped up in surprise.
“I don’t know what you’ve been through. I can only guess. I want you to know I’m always here if you want to talk. But from here on out as long as you are with me you are safe. Comprende?” Buck said, his serious face back in place, though broken by a half smile.
“Comprende,” Ezra said.
“Okay, let’s go get ready. We got us a house to go see,” Buck said cheerfully. His normal jovial self back in its place.
Ezra broke out into a smile. “Okay. I must go brush my teeth first,” he said, sliding out of Buck’s arms and dropping down onto the floor.
“Me, too,” Buck said as he gathered up the few dishes they had and headed in the kitchen with them. “See ya in five.”
Ezra was halfway down the hall by then. “I shall be ready,” he answered.
Buck walked into the kitchen and set the dishes down. He gripped the sink and took deep calming nerves. He could still feel his hands shaking from the emotional roller coaster he had just been on. Dealing with Ezra’s problems was going to be a long journey, he had known that, but he just wasn’t prepared for the emotional ride it would take him on.
After cleaning up the kitchen and brushing their teeth the duo was out the door and headed for the shack. All of them were suppose to meet at nine. Chris was borrowing a tractor with a grader today from a neighbor and the plan was to get the road into the area more drivable and to start leveling out the land. With a little luck and a lot of late hours this weekend, the area would be ready for cement to be poured Wednesday for the foundation.
Buck turned off a half mile past where they regularly turned off to go to Chris’. The dirt road was rough to say the least. As the truck bounced and jarred its way down the quarter mile road, Ezra began enjoying the bumpy ride. Buck laughed out loud as they hit a particularly bad rut in the road and the truck jumped and bucked. He glanced over at Ezra and noticed Ezra seemed to be enjoying himself. As the truck pulled into what would become the yard one day, they noticed that everyone else was already there. Ezra was disappointed that he wouldn’t be able to see the house first with just Buck, but shrugged it off. He had learned a long time ago, he couldn’t control people and getting upset about things never did him any good.
As he unstrapped himself form his booster seat, Ezra gaped through the windshield at the small dirty shack that was to become his home. Buck came around the truck and lowered the child to the ground. Leading Ezra by the hand, Buck walked up to the rest of the men in front of the house. Chris tried to refrain from laughing at the shell-shocked look on the five-year-old’s face. The expression was a cross between; ‘You got be kidding?’ and “Help!” The tall blond had to admit when he first drove up with Vin he had thought the same thing. He hadn’t realized how long it had been since he had been here and the place did need a lot of work. Ground cover had spread over the ground up to the exterior walls and the windows, as well as the porch, were covered in dirt. The place did look quite run down, but it was still sturdy.
Chris knelt down by Ezra and said, “So what do you think?”
Ezra swallowed hard. This was not anything like he had dreamed of. He had dreamed of a beautiful wood home with a white porch with rocking chairs on it, a flower garden out front, curtains flapping in the breeze; just the kind of house he had seen in magazines. He even secretly wished for a swing set over to the side under a billowing tree. There weren’t even any trees like that, just pine trees like Mr. Larabee had around his property. Ezra swallowed again and looked over at the blond kneeling beside him. Tentatively, he said, “Mr. Buck said it would be okay.”
“You bet it will be. Just needs a little fixing up,” Buck said, clamping his hands gently on the little shoulders and giving them a squeeze. “We’ll have this looking good in no time.”
Chris rose to his feet and said, “Let’s go in.”
Stepping up onto the creaky porch, Ezra prepared himself for the worse. Buck opened the door and led the troupe in the musty smelling house. The fanning of the door caused some of the newer layer of dust to stir up and momentarily choke its visitors causing the seven people to fan the air. Inside the old cabin, years of dust and cobwebs layered every available space. The old couch and recliner were the same color as the floor. As Buck moved through the small living room/ kitchen and into the single bedroom that contained an old iron bed and a chest of drawers the others followed, refraining from comments that surged to their mind. Ezra stood in the middle of the living room staring at his new surroundings and wondered where the beautiful home was that Buck had talked so much about. He clearly could not see the potential Buck had seen.
Josiah clapped his hands together causing Ezra and dirt alike to jump. Josiah mentally reminded himself to not to that again and said, “Standing here isn’t getting the job done.”
Chris nodded once at the remark and said, “Let’s get going then.”
Taking charge of the situation naturally, Chris led the group back outside and began handing out orders. “We need this area cleaned off. You guys start clearing out this ramble bush and Buck and me will go get the grader. Vin, you and Ezra can help pick up the little stuff.”
Ezra wasn’t sure about being left alone with the men while Buck went with Chris. He had been around the men a lot, but, never alone with them. He could feel his heart picking up speed when Buck knelt down beside. “I’ll be right back, Ezra. Just going down the road apiece and come right back. You’ll be okay, I promise,” Buck said assuredly.
Ezra nodded his head and pondered again why it was so easy for him to take Buck’s words at face value. He had never done that with anyone else, not even his own mother. “I shall be fine,” Ezra said. Whether he was trying to convince Buck or himself, Buck wasn’t sure, but he took what he got.
“You bet you will and Vin is staying, too, you know?” Buck reminded Ezra.
Ezra nodded and figured he’d better go find something to do before he lost his nerve at being left alone. Buck took the hint and slapped Chris on the back. “Sooner we go, the sooner we get back,” he said gruffly.
Chris completely understood and walked to the Buck’s truck. With ease and a great deal of practice, Chirrs freed the booster seat from its secured spot and put it in his own truck to keep it out of the dirt that would be blowing later.
JD had noticed the boy watch Buck leave with trepidation and decided a tactical intervention was needed to keep the child occupied. “Hey, Ezra, Vin come help me pick up these branches and twigs and let’s start making a pile,” he called out.
Vin ran by Ezra, grabbing the smaller arm as he went, “Come on, this is going to be fun,” Vin said.
Ezra didn’t think so, but he followed Vin’s lead anyway. It would be much better when Buck came back. Ezra began picking up small twigs and branches. He noticed that Nathan and Josiah were chopping down small saplings that had sprouted up, that were too close to the house to make it fire safe. JD was picking up the heavier branches and carrying them a good distance away from the house. Vin stopped to look at his new friend and what Chris said would hopefully be his new cousin. He saw a lot of himself in the little boy and understood most of the emotions Ezra tried to keep hidden. He liked the kid, even if he was different from any kid he ever knew. Chris had already explained to him that Buck and Ezra would be moving in with them for a little while. Vin recalled the conversation they’d had.
EARLIER THAT WEEK:
Chris had tucked Vin into bed and then sat down beside him. Stroking his son’s hair, Chris asked, “You know that old shack down the track?”
“Yes,” Vin replied.
“Well, Uncle Buck and I talked it over and decided it would be a good place for him and Ezra to move into,” Chris raised his hand to stall the coming comments he saw Vin about to state. “Of course I’m it’ll need a lot of fixing up and it’ll sure need extending to make it bigger.”
Seeing Vin relax a little, Chris continued, “Which brings me to something else that we need to talk about.
“Okay,” Vin said, accepting Chris’ calm demeanor as a good sign.
“Buck and Ezra are going to move in with us for a while,” Chris stated and then went on to further explain. “It will just be temporary, a month or so. It wouldn’t be necessary except for the fact Ezra can’t start school unless they live here in the area and the shack is in no shape to be lived in right now.”
Chris paused as he let his son absorb the new information and think about it.
“Now it’s not going to change anything. I’ll still be in charge of you and Buck will be in charge of Ezra. We’ll keep to our same routines. Ezra will even be sleeping in with Buck.” Chris explained.
The two men had had a long and serious talk about this new move. Neither wanted the boys to deal with any more changes to their lives than necessary. Buck had gone so far as to say he would cook their meals separately. Chris had informed his friend with a laugh that it wouldn’t be necessary; he thought Vin was quite capable of dealing with having them sit at the table with them.
Vin broke into Chris’ speech and asked, “Why can’t he sleep in here with me?”
“Buck didn’t want to intrude on you space,” Chris said. Seeing an almost hurt look on his son’s face, he asked, “Why? Do you want Ezra to stay in here with you?”
“Well, yeah,” Vin said rather huffily. “We’re friends. More than friends…we’re cousins,” Vin said in a manner that told Chris, Vin didn’t think he should have to explain that part.
Giving Vin a chance to have second thoughts, he asked, “You sure? It’ll mean losing some of your space and a lot of your privacy.”
“Yep, I’m sure,” Vin said with a smile. “Besides as loud as Uncle Buck snores that poor kid would never get any sleep.”
Chris laughed. “Okay. I’ll tell Buck it’s settled then. Ezra will move in here with you.” Chris paused. “That is if Ezra wants to. He may want to stay close to Buck,” Chris warned.
Chris moved to stand up and was stopped by a small hand on his arm. Looking down at his son, Chris waited for Vin to say what he had to.
“Why isn’t Buck just moving in with us permanently?” Vin asked. His blues eyes showing concern.
Chris was momentarily thrown by the question. “Why would they do that?” the father asked in a puzzled voice.
Vin shrugged self-consciously. “I just figured Buck would need help taking care of Ezra?” Vin replied honestly. “It’s hard taking care of a kid all by yourself,” he added softly.
Chris sighed at the child’s self-deprecation. He knew from the little that Vin shared that the child’s father had divorced hi mother and was never seen again. It had only been him and his mom until the woman died.
“I take care of you all by myself,” Chris responded. “”And I think we’re doing alright.”
Now, though he briefly wondered if he had been wrong. Did Vin feel he wasn’t getting enough by just having one parent?
“Yeah, but that’s different,” Vin said quietly.
“How?” Chris asked.
Chris waited patiently as Vin shifted nervously in bed. “You were a father before. You know what to do,” Vin whispered.
“Ah,” Chris said slowly in understanding.
Moving one hand over to the other side of the small boy, Chris positioned himself directly over Vin so he could gain straight eye contact.
“Uncle Buck has been taking care of Ezra for a couple of weeks now and I think he’s doing a very good job so far. Besides you said yourself the two of them belonged together,” Chris said.
“I know and I do think they belong together, but anyone can take care of a kid for three weeks,” Vin said, lowering his eyes. “What happens when Ezra isn’t new or interesting anymore, or he gets sick, or…or,” Vin stumbled to a stop.
Chris saw the problem immediately. Vin had not had the best of life after the death of his mother. Vin was worried about Buck losing interest in the little boy after the ‘honeymoon’ period was over and real life set in.
Putting his hand on the thin chest, Chris said confidently, “I have known Buck for a very long time and he’s never quit something once in his life. I have absolute faith in your Uncle Buck. Uncle Buck is quite capable of raising Ezra on his own. He’ll be just fine.” Chris paused a moment before saying, “And if Ezra does get sick or Uncle Buck needs help, we’ll be right here for both of them. Just like he’s always been there for us. Right kiddo?” Chris finished.
The wise seven-year-old thought it for a minute and after careful consideration decided his father was right. He knew his Uncle Buck really cared about Ezra and his uncle wasn’t one to frighten away and his dad was right about Uncle Buck not quitting. Vin couldn’t remember anything that Buck did that he quit at. Nodding his head subconsciously to himself, Vin said, more to himself than to his dad, “Yeah, Uncle Buck’s different. Just like Ezra.”
Chris was a little puzzled by the remark, but let it go. “Yep,” Chris said, “Buck is one of a kind.” Leaning over and planting a kiss on his son’s forehead, he whispered, “ ‘Nite kiddo. Love ya.”
“Love you, too, dad,” Vin responded.
Back To Present:
The three men and two boys were still clearing out the site when the distinct sound of a tractor could be heard coming up the dirt road. Ezra could tell by the sound of it, it was moving very slowly. Buck’s truck appeared followed by a small dust cloud. Ezra stopped what he was doing and watched to see who would get out. A small sigh of relieve escaped as he saw Buck physically climb out of the truck. A small wave of desire to go meet the man flooded him temporarily, before the small boy pushed it back down. He retained control over his emotions and went back to work.
“Hey, guys! You about got this cleaned up?” Bck said as he approached the two boys. Stopping beside the five-year-old, he placed his hand discreetly on the small back.
“Oh yeah, can’t you tell?” Nathan answered sarcastically with a wide smile on his face. Truth be told it was hard to see any improvement in the twenty minutes that had passed
“The boys got quite a bit of the small stuff carried off. Still have a lot of the big stuff left,” JD said unnecessarily.
“Good job, guys,” Buck said, praising both boys and giving Ezra a pat on the back.
“We’re getting there,” Josiah called out, noting how much more relaxed Ezra looked with Buck standing there beside him.
The three remaining men caught the tiny smile that lit upon the youth’s face for a moment before disappearing.
Taking his hand away, Buck clapped his hands together and said, “Okay.” Looking over at Vin and giving him a wink, he said, “How about we start on the inside. Think the place could do with some cleaning.”
“Amen to that,” Nathan said with a smile, beating his religious friend to the punch line.
Josiah laughed and said, “I’ll second that.”
Buck led the way into the house with Vin and Ezra following dutifully. “Why is dad so slow?” Vin asked puzzled as he walked into the dusty house.
“He’s grading the road as he comes,” Buck answered as he headed into the kitchen.
Once upon a time Sarah had kept cleaning materials stored up here so she wouldn’t have to wag the stuff back and forth. Buck sincerely hoped the supplies were still here. Looking in the pantry, he smiled at their good fortune. Even though he had bought along cleaning supplies just in case, he figured as dirty as the place was it would take everything they had. Buck pulled out the box of rags, bucket, dust spray, and broom.
Handing each boy a rag, the big agent rose to his feet.
“Uhh, Uncle Buck,” Vin started.
“Yeah, Vin?” Buck asked without looking at the boy.
“I don’t think these are going to do a lot of good,” Vin completed his thought.
Buck turned to find Ezra looking at his rag and then looking at the dust covered place. After three years of no use there wasn’t a spot that wasn’t covered. Buck started to laugh as he surveyed the room. “I think you’re right, Vin,” Buck said with a grin.
“How about we go over to the ranch and borrow your dad’s shop vac?” the man suggested.
“Okay,” Vin quickly agreed. Knowing they could get rid of more dirt with the vacuum than with the rags
“Alright let’s go,” Buck said as he herded the two boys back outside. They climbed back into the truck and took the shortcut path to the house.
Buck pulled the truck up next to Chris’ workshop and got out. Vin got out and held the door open while Ezra crawled down. The step down was a long ways for one with short legs. Ezra felt Vin grabbed him around the waist and help lower him to the ground, then the boys head into Chris’ workshop. The workshop set off to the side between the barn and the house further back towards the trees. Inside was a workman’s paradise. Ever since he had turned eighteen; first his parents and then later Sarah had given Chris some type of tool or assessory for every birthday and Christmas. Chris also used the large shed type building to repair his tack and some parts for the medium-size tractor he used to plant and harvest his own hay. When the others joined the team and started boarding their horses out at the ranch, they too, helped in that process.
Buck quickly wrapped the cord up, grabbed one the many extension cords and pushed the vacuum outside. Last year, the guys had bought Chris one of the newer models that was on better wheels and had a nice push handle attached. The boys watched as Buck lowered the tailgate and heaved the vacuum up in the bed. Using bungee cords he strapped the handle to the sides of the truck bed to keep it from rolling all over the place. Buck slammed the tailgate closed,
“Uncle Buck, can we ride in the back?” Vin asked.
Buck contemplated it for a minute before saying, “If you get towards the cab and stay seated.”
Vin jumped up and down promising to do that very thing. Buck hoisted Vin over the side of the bed and he quickly scrambled to the head of the bed. Buck turned to Ezra and did likewise to the little boy. Ezra seemed neither happy nor unhappy about the ride. Buck gave him a wink and Ezra simply turned and went to join Vin.
“This is going to be fun!” Vin half-shouted with excitement.
“Okay,” Ezra said. He had no idea what was going to be so great about riding in the back of a pickup truck going down a dirt track, but apparently he was missing something because Vin was very excited about it.
Ezra sat in the back, bouncing on the metal bed, having wind blow against his face, skewing his hair all over the place as Buck gunned the truck a little out of the yard. Once on the track though, he drove slow and eased his way around some of the potholes, hitting just enough to make the ride fun. Ezra would be hard pressed to admit it, but something about riding in the back did make the trip fun
Upon arrival, they could hear that Chris was getting nearer. Buck turned to the two boys. “Why don’t ya’ll go play while I get the worse out of the house,” he instructed the duo.
“Okay,” Vin happily agreed as he sat down on the tailgate and hopped to the ground. Turning to help Ezra off the tailgate, he said, “Come on, Ezra. We can go find some sticks and have a sword fight.”
Buck cringed, but refrained from saying anything more than, “Be careful. Don’t want any hospital trips!”
“We will,” Vin hollered back as he led Ezra over to the pile of wood that would later be cut up with the chainsaw and used for firewood.
Buck started for the house and stopped. Yelling at JD, he directed the younger friend, “Hey JD, come help me move this furniture out of the house.”
“Okay,” JD answered.
The two men removed the recliner, couch and a small dining table and two straight back chairs. After eh chore was finished, JD went back to the yard and Buck started up the vacuum.
Fifteen minutes later, Chris pulled into the yard. Vin didn’t stop playing, but waved to his dad. Chris waved back, before joining, Josiah, Nathan and JD in helping clear off the wide circle of area around the house. A lot of people build their homes nestled in the middle of a tree patch and then cried about their house burning down when a forest fire was started. Chris always pondered about these people’s sanity to begin with.
Vin was busy teaching Ezra how to play swords as Ezra told him all about the real castle he saw when he went to London with his mother one time when he was a little boy. Vin bit his tongue to refrain from telling the five-year-old he was still a little boy. Vin had the feeling that when Ezra looked in the mirror he saw a grownup.
The morning passed quickly and was heading into the afternoon when Chris called lunch. Each man retrieved a cooler of some kind from his vehicle and a picnic site was picked out and quickly set up. Buck came from the house covered in dirt. Slapping his hands against his sleeves and jeans, he only managed to create a dust cloud.
As Buck walked towards them, JD remarked, “Reminds me of Pigpen from Peanuts.”
JD instantly regretted the words as soon as they were out of his mouth and looked towards Ezra to see how upset the little boy was. Apparently Ezra hadn’t made any connections because he was still sitting out the plates. The guys had made fun of Buck before and had made Ezra very upset. They tried not to do that anymore.
After lunch, Chris declared that the front part of the yard was clear enough he could start grading. He looked at the two boys and said seriously, “I want you two in the house with Buck and don’t come out unless he comes with you. You understand?” he asked, looking at his son.
Twin “yes sirs,” were his answer.
Buck smiled. “Good. I was looking for two helpers,” he said.
Ezra simply wore his blank look, while Vin slumped his shoulders and muttered, “Aw man.” Causing the five men to laugh.
Buck entered the house and both boys were surprised at the amount of dust that was gone. “Still got the bedroom and bathroom to do,” the tall man informed the two children.
Handing both boys rags, he said, “Why don’t ya’ll go back over the surfaces and pick up what’s left?”
Buck had no illusions as to how long a seven and five-year-old would last cleaning before another game evolved, but every little bit helped.
Vin was cleaning the bookshelves while Ezra was wiping down the kitchen counter. Now that three years of dust was gone, the place was looking better. Vin laid his rag down and bopped Ezra on the shoulder. “You it,” he exclaimed.
Ezra had seen this game played at school and had yet to figure out what was so fun about chasing other children around trying to catch them. When Ezra didn’t move, but rather stood there and stared at him blankly, Vin sighed. His life after his mom died had been rough, but before then life had been pretty good. Good enough, he knew what tag was. “It’s a game called Tag,” Vin explained. “You tag someone and then they have to chase you,”
Yes, I have seen other children play it at school, but I fail to see the fun in it,” Ezra answered.
“Its just fun,” Vin said, growing exasperated.
Seeing Vin’s mood change, Ezra quickly changed his persona. “Okay,” he said with a smile. Reaching out, he tapped Vin on the shoulder and said, “Tag.”
Ezra took off running, but since their space was limited and his legs much shorted than Vin, it wasn’t long before he was tagged back. Vin recognized the frugality of playing the game in such limited space and said, “Let’s go outside and play.”
“No!” Ezra retorted quickly a flash of fear glowed in his eyes briefly. “Your father said he wanted us to stay inside,” he stated emphatically.
Vin harrumphed. Ezra was right and if they left the house without permission, he knew without a doubt he would be getting into serious trouble. “Okay,” he agreed reluctantly.
Ezra walked back to the counter and picked up his rag.
“What are you doing?” Vin asked, hands crossed in puzzlement
“Mr. Buck directed us to clean. Therefore I am cleaning. You must always obey grownups directions or else…” Ezra let the sentence hang.
Buck had turned off the vac and was in the middle of moving the cord to another plug when he overheard the conversation. Panic hit for a moment. His mind switched from being a father to being a federal agent. With all he had seen, he knew that Ezra’s kind of thinking could land the child in some very dangerous situations. If it hadn’t already.
Buck paused, he didn’t know whether to intrude on the conversation or wait until later. His dilemma was solved for him when Vin spoke up.
“Chris says, kids must only obey an adult only if they are telling us to do something out of safety. Like telling us not to walk when the light is red. But if they tell us to do something that’s going to hurt us, then we have the right to say no,” Vin explained.
Ezra contemplated this for a bit. “But, this isn’t hurting me and besides what adult do you know that will listen to a child’s direction?” Ezra argued. Buck could see the kid sitting in a supreme court one day.
Vin was stuck. Ezra had made a good point. He thought back to when he was living with those foster parents. They had locked him in a closet and starved him. Would they have listened if he had said no? A resounding no in his head answered him back.
Vin shrugged. “You have a point,” he begrudgingly agreed. It had sounded so simple when Chris had explained it, now it wasn’t simple at all. Vin picked up his rag and went back to cleaning.
Buck dropped his head down to his chest. He hadn’t realized how far they still had to go to bolster Vin’s self-esteem. The child had come so far it was hard to remember they had that much more to go and now they were starting from scratch with Ezra. He wondered how liberal people could be when hurting a child. Buck turned back to his cleaning before the boys realized the vacuum wasn’t running.
JD came through the backdoor to find the boys. Josiah had suggested they let the boys come out into the back of the house and play. Between the three of them they could keep the boys out of danger and besides Vin and Ezra was probably bored by now and driving Buck crazy. JD stepped into the living room to find both boys cleaning. He was impressed, but stopped their work anyways.
“Come on guys, you can come out back and play,” he said cheerfully.
Vin started to move before Ezra said, “Mr. Larabee said not to.”
Vin looked at JD pleadingly, he really wanted to go outside. JD looked from one boy to the other. “I’ll go ask Buck and make sure it’s okay,” he said, heading for the back of the house.
A minute later JD came back with a smile. “He said it would be okay.”
With the found freedom of outdoors, Vin was back to ‘tagging’ Ezra. Ezra sighed, rolled his eyes and took off after the seven-year-old. It didn’t take long for both to figure out that Ezra would never be able to ‘catch’ Vin. Seeing Ezra begin to show signs of frustration, Vin called a halt to the game. “Let’s play something else,” the older boy suggested.
Ezra could only pant for air and nod in agreement. Vin walked over to Nathan and Josiah and asked, “Would one of you, please go with me to dad’s pickup so I can get my trucks out?” Using his best manners to up the odds of getting his toys.
Nathan grinned. “Sure. Let’s go,” he said as he laid down the hacksaw he had been using.
Josiah looked over at the remaining boy and walked over to him. Stopping in front of Ezra, he asked, “How’s it going?”
Ezra looked up at the giant. “It is going very well, thank you,” he said in his most polite voice.
Squatting down to eye-level, Josiah said, “You know you don’t have to be so polite around us. We’re pretty laid back; no need for such formality.”
Ezra stared at the man for a long time wondering what the man was thinking. Josiah intrigued him a lot. “Yes sir,” Ezra said.
“How about just calling me Mr. Sanchez?” Josiah inquired.
He would have preferred being Uncle Josiah, but figured that was two steps too far away from where the boy was emotionally comfortable with right now. “Even better if it was just Mr. Josiah. Mr. Sanchez sounds like your addressing my grandfather.” Josiah said with a large smile.
Ezra shifted around. “I like Mr. Sanchez. Mother says one must always address grownups respectively,” he said. Hoping the big man wasn’t going to be mad. He just wasn’t comfortable calling him by his first name, even if there was a mister in front of it.
Josiah kept his smile. “Okay, Mr. Sanchez it is then.”
Changing topics, Josiah asked, “So what do you think of this place?”
Ezra looked around contemplating the question. Even in the short time they had been working on it, he could see improvement, small as they were. Ezra turned back to the profiler. “There is a lot of work to be done, but Mr. Buck says it’s going to be real nice when it’s finished,” Ezra said with conviction.
The profiler couldn’t help but notice how much faith Ezra was putting in Buck’s opinion. He wondered if the little boy realized just how much he was depending on Buck to be right. “I agree with Buck. It’s going to be a great place to live once we’re finished.”
For the first time that day, Josiah saw a real smile blossom on the child’s face. It only made his own smile grow bigger. Josiah would bet everything he had that Ezra didn’t know how cute he was when he smiled. The dimples alone were enough to melt any heart. He figured Buck had better build resistance to them real fast or he would never get ahead. Vin came back with his Tonka trucks and the two boys set to playing off to the side under the shade of the big trees that weren’t going to be cut down.
The men worked until almost sunset before quitting. By the time Buck got to the end of the new driveway, Ezra was sound asleep. Buck carried him into the house, bathed and tucked the child in without once having the child waken. Chris didn’t have too much of a harder time with Vin.
The next day, the men met up at Chris for lunch before going back to the new house and finishing up. Chris and Buck were tending the grill as screams of deep laughter and high shrills filled the yard. The three ‘big boys’ were playing tag with Vin, while Ezra stood on the sidelines and watched. Buck sighed and wondered what act of God it was going to take to get the little boy involved in the game. It turned out it didn’t take God, but the three ‘uncles’. Each one found a way to incorporate Ezra into the game, even though he just stood there looking exasperated, but also content. Right now as Buck stood off watching, JD was ‘hiding’ behind the small five-year-old. In a staged whisper loud enough for Buck and Chris to hear across the yard, JD was pleading to Ezra, “Don’t let him find me.”
Ezra stood motionless while Josiah, who was ‘it’, ran around chasing the other players. Buck laughed when Josiah stopped in front of Ezra and asked, “You see which way JD went?”
Without batting an eye, Ezra answered, “No. Haven’t seen him.”
Chris handed Buck a cola and watched the helter-sheltered game. He took a sip of his own cola and as he bought it down, staring at it as he remembered back to a moment right after Vin had come to stay with him.
Shortly after Vin had come to stay with Chris, the man had come in from a hard day at the office and like any other hard day, Chris had gone into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator door. Pulling out a beer can and opening, he glanced up to find Vin standing in the doorway with a fixed terrorized look on his face just as he was about to take a swallow. Chris could have slapped himself for his inconsiderate thought. The house they had found the abused boy in had been filthy and littered with beer cans and drug paraphernalia. Chris set the can down on the counter and after a lot of coaxing and swearing to the child he was safe, the blond finally convinced the child to come into the kitchen and stand next to him. With Vin watching him intently with a leery face, Chris poured the contents down the drain. Chris then coaxed Vin into retrieving every single alcohol can from the refrigerator and likewise poured them down the drain, also.
He established a no alcohol on the premises rule that very night. After six months and working on gaining Vin’s trust, Chris felt it was necessary to begin teaching his son that a person could drink without becoming angry and hurtful. The very thing, he himself had become after the death of his family. He didn’t necessarily want to teach his son to drink, but that he shouldn’t be afraid of it or people who did drink He talked Buck into bringing an alcoholic beverage in a foam container out to the ranch. Vin had avoided his Uncle Buck the entire day and Buck had told Chris, he would never do it again.
The next weekend Chris roped Josiah into it. Chris talked to Vin throughout the day of how neither his uncles had drank to excess and that both men retained control over their actions. Vin was only slightly less hostile to Josiah. Each weekend Chris used a different team member and slowly Vin began to make the connection that these men were different than the foster parents when they drank. Chris had eventually lifted the ban on alcohol. The funny thing was the guys basically still heeded it, preferring to bring colas, ice tea, or lemonade instead.
The lunch was wolfed down and then the seven headed back to the new house.
The five men went to work and the two boys stayed to the side playing with Vin’s trucks. Buck had told Ezra it would be all right if the child had wanted to bring his own cars out to play, but Ezra had refused.
After a small fraction of time, Vin made his way into the house where Buck was cleaning by hand. The tall agent looked up and not seeing his son, asked, “Where’s Ezra?”
“He fell asleep in the dirt while we were playing,” Vin answered, running a finger through a dusty patch, doodling a picture.
Buck started to walk past the boy when Vin stopped him, “It’s alright, Dad moved him into the shade and all the guys are keeping an eye on him.”
Buck looked down at Vin and decide now would be a good time to talk to his nephew about the changes coming to his life.
“Come here a moment would you?” Buck asked as he padded relatively clean spot on the floor. Vin sat down on the floor next to his uncle and waited for his Uncle Buck to talk.
“You know me and Ezra’s moving out to the ranch next week, don’t you?” Buck asked.
“Well yeah,” Vin said sarcastically.
Buck smirked at his nephew attitude. “I just want you to know that it’s only temporary and that I’m not trying to invade on your territory.”
Vin looked at his uncle for a very long time before saying, “It’s your territory, too, Uncle Buck.”
Buck blushed a little and nodded your head. “Well, if Ezra gets to bothering you or you want your room back all you have to do is say the word and I’ll do what I can to fix it, okay?” Buck said, looking seriously at his nephew.
“Uncle Buck, seriously, Ezra isn’t big enough to invade my space and he ain’t a bother. I like him,” Vin said.
“You haven’t had him around all the time either. All I’m saying is if he bothers you, you have the right to tell me and I’ll arrange it so you have time to yourself,” Buck tried to explain.
“Okay, but he’s not going to be in the way,” Vin said, giving in because he figured Buck would never understand what he was trying to say. Ezra needed to be needed. Just like Uncle Buck needed to be needed.
Buck wasn’t finished with his prepared speech, though it wasn’t going quite like he had planned.
“He’ll be going to school with ya, too,” Buck said, worrying at a spot on jeans.
“I know,” Vin said wondering what the problem was with grownups.
“I just want you to know you’re not responsible for him, there either,” Buck said.
“He’ll have his own class and his own friends. You don’t have to look after him,” Buck said.
Vin sat and stared at him and Buck chewed on his lip. It wasn’t coming out like he wanted it to. The agent knew that Vin was a good person naturally and he feared Vin would feel responsible for Ezra at school
“What I’m saying is Ezra will be just like any other kid,” Buck finally said.
Vin shook his head. “No, he won’t be. He’s family and family takes care of each other,” the seven-year-old said with aged wisdom.
Buck looked at his nephew and slowly shook his head before gathering the child in his arms in a ‘Buck Bear Hug’. “I love you, you know that,” Buck said softly.
Vin wrapped his arms around the big man and replied, “I love you, too, Uncle Buck.”
The rest of the day was spent much like the previous one and by the end of the day with all five men working hard; it had all been cleared and graded smoothly. The men walked over the grounds one last time, making sure that it ready for the cement truck that was coming Wednesday. Luckily, being agents with the federal law, they were ensured of good service and Buck wouldn’t have to take the day off. Being with the federal government had its perks. Josiah followed Chris back to the neighbors to return the tractor and then drove him home. Nathan had stayed behind to get Vin started on his bath. Tomorrow was going to be the start of another big day.
Buck woke up early and began getting ready. The downside to moving out so far was that it was going to take more time in the mornings. This week would be worse because Buck would have to drive Ezra out to the school and then back into town for work. Next week it would only get slightly better. Buck dressed and started the coffee maker before waking Ezra up and helping the groggy child get dressed. After their morning ritual, Buck loaded the still sleepy child into the truck and headed for the new school. Parking the truck, Buck helped Ezra down and the two walked into the new school.
Mrs. Jordan stepped out of her office and greeted the duo. “Good morning! You must be Ezra,” she said cheerfully.
Ezra took the offered hand and replied in kind, “Good morning, Mrs. Jordan.”
Buck handed the woman the stack of papers he’d had to fill out over the weekend. She turned and laid them on the desk then turned back to the father and son. “Why don’t I show you around?” she offered, still holding on to the small hand and leading him away. When she noticed Buck was still standing where he was, she turned and said, “Come on dad, you too.”
Buck smiled largely and quickly caught up to the two. Mrs. Jordan showed them the cafeteria first. “This is where you’ll come first thing and eat breakfast. Unless you eat at home and then you can skip it,” she directed as Ezra glanced around the large dining area, with its rows of tables.
“When you get your tray at breakfast and at lunch, you will punch in a special number that will only be yours into a machine at the end of the line. This number will also be used in the library when you check out books,” Mrs. Jordan explained, as she showed Ezra and Buck where the small calculator looking machine was at the end of the food line. “We also sell juices at lunch.”
Seeing the growing concern on the small child’s face, she leaned down and said, “You don’t have to worry about the numbers. The librarian will fix a card with your number on it and your teacher will help you. By the end of next week, I bet you’ll have it memorized,” she said with a reassuring smile.
Ezra tried to give a similar smile. He only hoped he could keep everything straight.
“Next, you’ll go to your home hall,” Mrs. Jordan directed, leading the way out of the cafeteria and taking the closest hall that lead off to the left. “This hall has Pre-K, Kindergarten and first. The other hall has second on third on it and the hall leading off at the end is fourth and fifth and the library. Just think of it as a squared horseshoe. You can’t get lost,” She informed.
As she led the pair pass a row of classrooms, Buck and Ezra, both, noticed that two were filled with kids. “That will be you meeting place this week. I’ll show in a minute, but first let’s meet your teacher,” the principal directed.
As they walked down the long hall, Ezra was busy trying to catalogue all the new information. He only hoped he didn’t make too many mistakes. They entered a brightly decorated classroom and Ezra’s heart leapt at the fun looking atmosphere. Buck scanned the classroom and noticed over in a far corner a huge tree made of brown and green butcher paper. Its branches and leaves covered the entire corner and spread out onto both opposing walls. Buck could only imagine how many hours it must have taken the teacher to create such a thing. He guessed a good seven hours. Scattered throughout the tree were the ABC’s cut out of bright neon paper. On the other walls hung posters, numbers and other decorations.
A tall, young woman came out from around her desk and walked toward them. “You must be Ezra. I’m Miss Cates,” she said as she took the small hand that the principal had dropped moments earlier. “I am so glad you are going to be in my class,” she said in a friendly tone.
Miss Cate had been informed that she would be getting a new student, but looking at the small tyke she was very surprised. The child looked more like a living doll. Dressed in khakis and a polo shirt, she noticed that Ezra was quite small for his age, not only in height, but weight as well and would easily be the smallest child in the whole grade. The teacher quickly noted to herself that some of the four-year-olds down the all were bigger than this child.
“Thank you, ma’am,” Ezra said as he stared at the prettiest lady he had ever seen. He liked her honey colored hair that fell below her shoulders and her pretty smile.
Looking up, she said, “And you must be…” she let it hang waiting for Buck to fill in how he was to be addressed.
Taking the offered hand, he said, “I’m Buck.” He hoped with time and having as many people refer to him informally, Ezra, too, would be less formal.
“Buck,” she repeated the name. “Please to meet you.”
“The feeling is mutual,” he replied, with a hint of just how much he really meant it.
The teacher understood the underlying message. She had already been informed of the disaster at the child’s previous school.
“While you are both here why don’t I explain a few things?” Miss Cate stated, stepping away from the father and son and walking over to a filing cabinet.
Located on the side of the file cabinet was a large, colored poster board, with five different colored faces going down the side showing various moods; ranging from great big smile to very unhappy frown. “This is our clip board,” Miss Cate said.
Buck then noticed the clothespins with children’s names on them aligned up across the top and a few along the edges. “When a student does the wrong thing, he gets a warning, after that he has to move his or her clip down one face. If the child lands on red, he is sent down to the office to visit with the principal,” she explained.
“Now each child also has a folder that goes home with him every night except for Fridays, that you’ll have to sign.” Miss Cate looked at Buck directly. “There are sheets inside, a page for every week. The sheet is divided into four rows, for Monday through Thursday. On each row are these faces,” she said, picking up a folder to show as an example. This lets the parent know what kind of day their child had. It is also a way for us to communicate. If you need to meet with me or have special instructions for Ezra, then you will write it in his folder and I will know.”
Buck listened as the teacher lined everything out. He liked the folder concept. That away he would know exactly whether or not Ezra was copying with school.
“Also in his take home folder will be his reading book. We ask the parents to read at least fifteen minutes with their child every night,” Miss Cates went on to say.
Buck nodded, he already knew about the reading from when he, on those special occasions, picked Vin up. Vin always read to him on the way home.
The principal had patiently waited while the teacher explained the vital information. Seeing the teacher was done, Mrs. Jordan asked, “Let’s go to your meeting room, shall we?”
Ezra looked up and said, “Yes ma’am.”
“My you do have good manners,” Mrs. Jordan said as she led the pair back out into the hall.
Walking into one of the classrooms, she explained. “Every week the meeting rooms rotate so that the teachers have duty twice every six weeks, but don’t worry you can’t miss them,” she said with a laugh. The two rooms had two very short passages between them. In each passage was a bathroom off to the side. Both doors clearly labeled for each sex. In the classroom they entered there was a large group of children watching a video. Buck wasn’t too sure how he felt about this. He enjoyed TV as much as the next fellow, but wasn’t sure he wanted Ezra to get into the habit of needing TV first thing in the morning. Buck was still watching the video trying to remember where he had seen the guy on it, when it clicked. It was Bill Nye the Science Guy. Vin had a couple of his videos. The principal had seen Buck’s disturbed look and quickly explained. “All our videos are educationally approved.”
Buck nodded his own approval and then followed the woman as she moved through the short passage into the other room. In this room children were scattered throughout in small groups. Some were playing with children’s kitchen appliances, some were in a group on a large area rug reading books, some were at tables coloring pictures, and some were playing with wooden blocks. The principal was still explaining about the videos. “Another thing is that during school time, videos are prohibited unless we have extremely bad weather and the children can’t go out for recess or it is used in instructional setting,” she said. “Such as teaching a science class in weight, etc.”
Mrs. Jordan turned back to Buck. “The only exception to this rule happens twice a year at the end of each semester on a Friday. The teachers then have what is called a free day. On these days the teachers are allowed to have Video Day. The upper grades are slightly different in that sometimes the teachers divvy up the students. Where one teacher will take all the kids that want to watch a video to her classroom and another teacher will hold a reading party. The kids are allowed to come in the pajamas and bring their blankets, pillows and snacks and read all day and the third teacher holds a game day, where kids bring their favorite games and play But, like I said that’s the upper grades. The lower grades usually opt for videos in the morning and recess all afternoon.
Ezra had stayed right between the principal and Buck. He took in all the activity and liked what he saw. Though there were a lot of children, every kid that was in Pre-K through first, the kids were playing quietly at whatever they were doing and it seemed organized.
Vin was playing in the block area when he noticed Buck and Ezra walk in with Mrs. Jordan. Getting up from his spot, he walked over to the trio. “Hey Uncle Buck,” he greeted.
“Hey Vin,” Buck said with a smile.
Vin looked at Ezra and asked, “You wanna come play with me?”
Ezra looked to Buck for reassurance. Buck bent over and said, “It’s okay.” Giving him a wink, the father figure said, “I’ll pick you after school, okay?”
Ezra looked a little puzzled. He knew Vin rode the van from school to the daycare and thought he, too, would be doing the same. “I’m not riding the van with Vin?” he asked, suddenly unsure of anything again.
Buck looked into Ezra’s serious green eyes and saw confusion. “You want to ride the van?”
Ezra nodded his head with uncertainty. He wasn’t sure if that would upset his foster dad or not. He wished he could read the man’s mind so he would know the right answer.
Before Buck could reply, Vin piped up and said, “I’ll see to it he gets on alright,”
Buck turned to Vin and said in a warning voice, “Vin.” He didn’t want the boy to feel he had to look after Ezra. Ezra wasn’t his responsibility; the seven-year-old was still a child himself.
Vin rolled his eyes. “It’s okay Uncle Buck,” Vin said in a slightly agitated tone, his meaning clearly being understood by Buck.
Ezra watched the exchange with fascination. The two seemed to be translating in an unspoken language
“I’ll meet him at his door and he can walk with me” Vin said. Turning to Ezra, the older boy asked, “That okay?”
Ezra nodded his head. At this point anything that made everyone happy was all right with him.
Buck turned back to Ezra and said, “Okay then, I’ll see you at the center.”
“Okay,” Ezra said, finally feeling he had made the right choice and some decision had been made.
Vin figured now would be a good time to lead the little boy away, he had seen some parents stand and repeatedly say goodbye to their child until the kid wound up crying. He didn’t want that to happen to Ezra, not that he believed the kid cried easily, but one never knew.
Ezra followed Vin over to the blocks and knelt down rather close to the seven-year-old. He felt very self-conscious around the other group of boys and felt safer with Vin. If the older boy minded, he didn’t let on. Ezra didn’t play with the blocks, but just watched. By now Vin was getting use to this behavior and ignored it. Vin figured when Ezra got use to everyone then he would join in.
Buck and the principal walked back down the hall and stopped in front of another office located across from the main office. Stepping inside, Buck was greeted by a woman with graying hair. “ Mr. Wilmington, this is Mrs. Burch, our school psychologist,” Mrs. Jordan said as she introduced the pair.
“Please to meet you,” Mrs. Burch said, shaking the agent’s hand.
“Same here,” Buck said with a half-smile.
“I’m going to leave you two get acquainted,” Mrs. Jordan said.
“Why don’t we have a seat,” Mrs. Burch instructed as she led the way to two chairs near a desk at the back of the room.
Buck followed the woman, he guessed her to be close to be about five-three and around fifty years old. The plumb woman had a real grandmotherly appearance and figured that worked in the woman’s favor. As Buck walked across the room, he glanced about and made several mental notes. Unlike the classrooms, this room was painted a soft soothing yellow with bright colored figures painted throughout the room. Along one entire wall was shelving from the floor up about three feet containing dolls, toys, games, a bucket of crayons and other assorted stuff Buck couldn’t make out. On top of the shelves were several animal cages.
Buck sat down in the chair as directed by the older woman. She let him gaze about the room, letting him take in his surroundings. She learned a lot about a parent by simply studying them. Finally she spoke. “I deal with many different age ranges with a wide variety of problems,” she started. “What works with some children doesn’t necessarily work with others.”
Buck let his eyes wander back on the animals. He noted there were what appeared to be lizards, hamsters, a rabbit and the rest he was unsure what they were.
“Most children have difficulty in communicating their needs and problems,” she said softly, watching how the man’s keen eye seemed to pick the room apart in detail. “The animals are beneficial in the fact that children can come in and pick out an animal when they feel stressed, angry, fearful or a multitude of other reasons they need to be here. They can find a secluded area and calm themselves until they are ready to talk.”
Buck briefly smiled to himself as his mind thought that this was what the office needed, stress reduction; his boss in particular. He could just imagine Chris snuggling with a bunny. His face fell as another scene flashed into his mind; hamsters lose and running all over the office. Buck snapped his eyes shut at the image that created with his boss.
Buck turned to the woman for the first time and halfway laughed. “If you can get Ezra to talk about himself, I wish you every bit of good luck,” he said humorlessly.
“I use other methods besides words. Like I said some children can’t vocalize their thoughts or secrets,” she said. “I use art, dolls, role playing and many other techniques to draw out the child.”
She suddenly asked Buck, “Do you have a psychologist for Ezra?”
Buck seemed to deflate right in front of the woman’s eyes. “Not yet,” he said sadly. “Social Services is suppose to help find one, but you know how slow bureaucracy wheels turn?” he stated.
“I can help with that. I can also help coordinate any other services Social Services is going to require,” the grandmotherly-type woman said. She liked this man. She’d had her reservations at first when Mrs. Jordan had told her about the ATF agent being a single foster parent. Sitting here now though all doubts were erased, it was very clear to her that this man was devoted to the little boy. “I will set you up with a very good child psychologist as well as meet with Ezra, myself,” she added.
“Thank you. I would appreciate that,” Buck said with a true smile.
Elaine Burch felt her heart do a little flip at the smile. She had no reserves that this was a diamond in the rough sitting before her and figured he could have women falling all over him, if he chose.
“Your welcome,” she said with a smile of her own. “I will be seeing Ezra, too, like I said,” she added. “A couple of times a week and hopefully once he feels comfortable with me, he will also come on his own when he needs, too.”
Buck simply nodded at this. He couldn’t see the little boy giving up any information willingly, much less wanting to at this point.
Mrs. Burch could see the doubt filling the man’s eyes. “What can you tell me about Ezra?” she inquired.
“Not much,” Buck revealed with regret.
“Tell me what you can,” she prodded and the two spent the next hour talking about the small five-year-old down the hall.
Ezra sat next to Vin for the remainder of time until the school bell rang. Vin got up and Ezra followed. Vin lead Ezra out the door and stopped outside of Ezra’s classroom. “This is yours and mine is right there,” Vin said, pointing to a classroom diagonally across the hall. “I’ll meet you right here after school, okay,” Vin asked. After receiving a very small nod for Ezra, Vin looked up at Miss Cate and said, “He’s going with me after school on the van.”
“I expected as much. Thank you, Vin,” the tall woman replied.
Turning back to Ezra once more, Vin said seriously, “You’ll be okay. Miss Cate is a good teacher.”
Ezra once again nodded and then watched with a stuttering heart as Vin disappeared into hi own classroom. Ezra felt a gentle hand on his back and heard Miss Cate suggest, “Let’s go in and get started.”
Ezra took a deep breath and walked in the new classroom.
Ezra was both surprised and dismayed during the morning. Dismayed, because it seemed ‘Morning Meeting’ time was universal in both schools. He was more content when the teacher let him sit back a bit from the rest of the kids and wasn’t encouraged to join in the morning movement part. It seemed, also, that the songs that were played at his old school were also part of the curriculum in this school.
He was surprised and delighted because, Miss. Cate read a wonderful book during morning story time about a monkey and a man in a yellow hat visiting a zoo. After story time, they were asked to go to their desk and create their favorite scene from the book. Mrs. Cate went around and wrote a sentence made up by the child on the bottom of the page. When Ezra went ahead and wrote his own sentence with only a couple of mistakes. Miss Cate was thrilled at his writing and praised him wholeheartedly. Ezra was in seventh heaven when the pretty teacher patted him on the back and complimented him.
Mid-morning found the students doing centers, much like in his other school. His favorite center was playing with the leapfrog pads. It was like a simple lap desk that books were placed inside and by using a special pen; he could listen to the story or play spelling games. Every book was different and mid-way though that center, the teacher had them exchange their books with another person in his center. He was likening this Kindergarten class. The children were a bit more socially advanced and there were quite a few that were reasonably smart. The work at the ‘writing’ center was oblivious too hard for some of the children, but he understood and was finished rather fast. One of the little girls in his foursome group was struggling with the cut and paste paper. She couldn’t figure out which words rhymed. Ezra leaned over the table and very softly sounded out the “mouse” picture in her hand and then read the four options on the paper, stressing specifically the “house”. The girl quickly caught on and the mouse was glued down in the correct position. Ezra turned to see if the teacher had caught him and found her smiling at him and mouthing a ‘thank you’. Ezra’s heart fluttered a little. He could help and not get into trouble.
At lunch, Miss Cate bought Ezra a card over with a bright pink label on it. “This is going to be your school number, okay,” Miss Cate asked nicely. “You use it when you go to the cafeteria and to the library,” she further explained.
Ezra nodded and got into line. A boy, Ezra had yet to remember his name, whispered, “It’s easy.”
Ezra smiled obligingly for the information and hoped it was true. As the kids went through the line, he saw how the kids in front of him were punching in their number into the little black box and then a ka-ching sound would sound, letting the cafeteria woman know the child entered the right number. Ezra stared at his five-digit number and had it memorized by the time he got to the end of the line with his tray. Slipping the card under his tray, before arriving at the box, Ezra punched his code in like all the other students. Right before, he started to leave the cafeteria woman stopped him and Ezra froze.
“Need to take your picture, sweetie,” she said. “It’s for our records. So, when you come through the line, we’ll know you are.”
Ezra felt immense relief and backed up against the wall; while the lady aimed the small camera attached to the computer at him and clicked a button. “Okay, dear, that’s it. By tomorrow we’ll have your picture in the blank square.”
Ezra simply nodded and went to find his seat.
After lunch came recess. The small child was not thrilled, but there was nothing he could do about it. Learning from previous experience that teachers didn’t like it when he didn’t go off and play, Ezra walked to the far corner of the playground and sat down. He had been sitting there a good long time, fifteen minutes, when he noticed more students came out to play. He had noticed in the cafeteria that the first graders had come in halfway through his lunch period. Now he assumed that first grade recess overlapped his recess as well.
Vin ran out into the open with the enthusiasm all kids have when finally reaching the playground. Groups were quickly formed and kids went their own way. Vin was running with the same small group of boys he always ran with when one of them pointed out a little boy sitting off to himself. “Hey Vin! Don’t you know that new kid?”
Vin looked to where his friend was pointing and noticed it was Ezra off to himself. “Yep, he belongs to my Uncle Buck.” Vin said, not mentioning the fact that Ezra was a foster kid. He knew how that label felt and wanted Ezra to escape it. As far as these knew Ezra was his Uncle’s son.
“Where’s his mom?” another student asked in interest.
“She…” Vin paused for a moment trying to think of and excuse without telling the truth. “She’s gone,” he simply said.
“Oh,” someone said. It wasn’t uncommon nowadays for kids to only have one parent, or to live their grandparents and the children accepted this news as one of those scenarios.
“Come on, let’s see if he wants to play,” the first kid said.
“I don’t think he will,” Vin said reluctantly as he followed the group over to the area where Ezra. was sitting
“Why not?” the first child asked.
“He’s…a…kinda shy,” Vin add-libbed.
Upon arrival of the group, Ezra felt himself flinch backwards and fought the urge to run for cover. Noticing Vin was in the group, Ezra wasn’t sure that was a good thing or not. Perhaps, Vin would simply follow with whatever the others did. Ezra sat perfectly still and waited for whatever to come.
“Hey kid, you wanna play with us?” one of the boys asked eagerly.
Ezra was momentarily taken back. He wasn’t expecting this. Looking around at the small group, he hesitated before speaking. “Thank you for your kind offer, but I’m not dressed for playing,” Ezra explained.
The boys looked at Vin with a look of disbelief. “Your Uncle must really teach him manner,” he said. Vin simply shrugged. He didn’t know how to explain Ezra’s weird behavior. He was getting used to it and he just figured the others would too in time.
“So, you don’t want to play?” the same kid repeated to ask Ezra.
“No thank you,” Ezra said quietly.
“Okay, see ya. Come on guys,” the second boy shouted as he led the rest off at high-speed chase.
Vin was torn between going with the others and staying with Ezra. One more look at the lonely kid and he made up his mind. He sat down beside Ezra and started drawing the dirt. Ricky Glass started off with the rest of the group and noticed Vin wasn’t following. He turned back to the two boys and asked, “Can I play with ya’ll.”
Vin turned to Ezra, who just shrugged, and then turned back to Ricky. “Sure,” Vin said. The three boys sat in the dirt, but only two played building roads. Ezra remained mute the duration of the time until his class was called to go in.
The afternoon held ‘conference’ time, which meant the kids went to another class and the teacher had hour break to do to whatever needed doing. Today, Ezra’s class went to music. Ezra was relieved it wasn’t P.E. After Music the kids went back to class and did math. The math was far too easy for Ezra and he was bored during the instruction. He already understood counting and numbers. Miss Cate could tell that Ezra had already quietly done his math paper during her instruction time. She would have to find something else for the child to do during this time until the counselor could give Ezra his placement test, which would be sometime during the week. For the moment though, she let him go to the ‘library’ corner and sit and read.
The end of the day finally came and when the bell rang, Ezra lined up with his class and stopped outside the classroom door where he stood like a statue with his backpack. Vin came out at a slow pace, talking to another boy. The two split up and Vin walked over to Ezra. “Ready?” he asked. As normal Ezra nodded. Vin was thinking this kid had two speech modes, using a hundred words or none at all.
Vin led Ezra out the front door and over to a big tree. Sitting under the tree were two children, a boy and a girl.
“Hey Matthew! Hey Martha,” Vin said cheerfully.
“Hey Vin!” they answered in unison.
“Is that Mr. Wilmington’s new kid?” Matthew asked.
“Yep,” Vin answered. The seven-year-old looked over at his five-year-old cousin and saw the discomfort in Ezra’s face and knew Ezra was concerned that these two children seemed to know about him.
“Ezra, this Matthew and Martha Potter. Their mom runs the gas station and convent store out on the highway. Guys this Ezra,” Vin introduced the three kids.
“Hey!” the Potter children said together.
Ezra stared at he two children and was amazed at their ability to speak at the same time. “Hello,” he said shyly, hanging back behind Vin.
Vin and Matthew began talking about what they did in school while Martha sidled up next to the little boy with the deep dimples and pretty green eyes. Her little momma instincts kicking in, she sat down next to the quiet child and began to quietly talk to him, reassuring him that everything would be all right.
Soon a dirty white pickup came into the horseshoe parking lot and Matthew and Martha gathered their belongings. “See ay tomorrow,” they said together. Then Martha turned to the little boy still sitting on the grass. “Bye Ezra,” she called.
“Goodbye Martha,” Ezra called softly.
The woman behind the wheel of the pickup waved at the two boys while waiting for the children to get in. After the pickup drove off, Vin sat down next to Ezra. Ezra softly whispered, “She’s nice.”
“Yeah, Martha is pretty cool and she can run really fast,” Vin said. The seven-year-old thought the older girl was pretty neat. She always treated him real nice and sometimes raced him around the yard while they waited for their rides.
Ezra looked around and found they were the only two children in this area. Vin seemed to know what the child was thinking and said, “Before you came I was the only one to be riding the van. Now that you’re going to be riding it; I don’t have to wait by myself.”
Ezra tuned a killer smile on his friend. “I’m glad I could do something for you,” he said in warming tone.
Vin laughed to himself. Ezra made it sound like he had done it on purpose. Instead of that, he said, “Me too. Then went on to explain, “Since we’re so far out, we’re the last on the van’s route. They weren’t going to come out here last year just for one kid, but Dad persuaded them too. Now there’s you too,” Vin said with a smile.
Ezra smiled back and waited for the van. It wasn’t long before a long van pulled up into the parking lot. Vin got up and softly ordered Ezra, “Come on. This is our ride.”
Ezra stood up and walked to the van. One of the kids on the inside already had the side door opened for them. Vin waved to Ezra to crawl in first and Vin pushed from the back. An older kid bent over the side arm of his seat and pulled Ezra in. “You must be the new kid, Mr. Mackey said we would be picking up?”
Ezra simply stared at the twelve-year-old boy and barely nodded. Vin started to step up behind Ezra and then figured out the boy wasn’t moving. “Ezra move on to the back and we’ll sit together,” he gently instructed.
Ezra turned and looked down at Vin waiting to board and blushed. Squeezing his way to the back, he found the back seat already occupied by two kids. The two kids moved their feet and Ezra took the silent directions to move pass them and sit next to the window. Aisle seat was better on last row because window seat kids were the last ones out. No sooner had Ezra sat down then he noticed Vin was right beside him. Vin reached across him and Ezra was puzzled as to what the boy was doing until he saw the buckle. “You got to buckle up,” Vin said.
The ride back to town was noisy with all the kids talking and calling back and forth to each other. Ezra was very happy when they finally reached the building and piled out. After Ezra stepped out of the van, with the help of Vin, he looked up to find Buck standing off to the side. Both boys walked up to the tall agent.
“Hey, guys,” Buck said with a wide smile. “How’d it go today?”
“Good, except I got math tonight,” Vin answered.
Buck laughed at the inside joke. First graders had a math sheet to do every night except Friday. The thinking would be the a) the extra practice would help the kids and b) it would get the parents involved in helping the child with his homework. For the most part it worked. Buck turned to Ezra and asked, “What about you, pard. You got homework, too?”
“No sir,” Ezra responded. Then shyly added, “I do have a book to read that Miss Cate said should be read with you.” Ezra wasn’t how Buck would take to be ordering he had to read with him. If it had been Maude, she would have just signed off on the sheet saying they read together and then go her own way. Ezra figured Buck might want to do the same, he wasn’t sure. “I can read it myself though, it’s okay,” he quietly added.
“Nope,” Buck said with a wink. “We’ll get it tackled when we get home,”
Ezra let out a small smile of relief and happiness. Before he had to think of anything else. Buck said with a laugh, “Well, guys I have to get back to work before I get fired.”
Ezra began worrying. Vin laughed. “Buck,” Vin said, dragging out the name. “Dad won’t fire you. You’re the only one that can do what you do.”
Buck felt his heart swell at the absolute faith Vin had in him doing his job. “That’s right. Might have to remind him of that,” the tall agent teased.
After the two got done teasing each other, Buck said, “Okay get on inside and I’ll see you in about an hour.”
“Okay. Bye, Uncle Buck,” Vin said.
“Goodbye, Mr. Buck,” Ezra said without the usual formal tone in his voice. Buck noticed the more relaxed tone and smiled back at Ezra.
“See ya,” Buck said as he opened the door to the center and waited for the two boys to go in before heading back to the office with a light step to his walk. He took all the little signals from Ezra as signs that the kid’d had a good day. He was feeling better about his decision.
That night after supper, Josiah and JD showed up to start helping Buck pack up his belongings. Buck started with his ‘office’ in the corner of his room, while Josiah took the kitchen and JD started in the living room.
The plan was to box all the unnecessaries and put them in Chris’ barn until Buck moved into the house. As each man took a different room, Ezra wandered from place to place. Watching each man intently. The thought started settling in him that they were actually moving away from here, the place where he and Buck had spent the last three weeks together. To anyone else that would seem like a relatively short time, but to Ezra it seemed to be a lifetime. A lifetime, which had let him begin a life over. The little boy wandered into the kitchen and sat down at the kitchen table. Josiah turned to find himself being inspected with cautious eyes.
“Hey, Ezra. You wanna help?” Josiah asked. “You can hand me things form the back of the cabinet,” he suggested.
Ezra slowly rose from his chair and walked over to where the giant man was standing. Josiah carefully lifted the small boy up to stand on the counter. Looking eye-to-eye from this height gave Ezra a new perspective, for one, he really liked the color of Josiah’s eyes and another; he could read his expressions better. Josiah stood still while Ezra’s gaze took inventory of him. Finally, the profiler broke into a grin and asked, “So do I pass inspection?”
Ezra smiled back at the joke and turned to get a glass from the back of the cabinet. Handing it to Josiah, he watched as the man took it carefully and wrapped it in newspaper. Josiah noticed the puzzled look as Ezra watched him and then looked down at the box containing other paper-wrapped dishes. “You wrap valuable things up,” Josiah offered as he continued to work. Ezra took the information and filed it away.
It was almost eight when Buck noticed the clock. Stopping what he was doing, he mentally kicked himself for not watching the clock better. Going through the house he found Ezra in the kitchen. Walking in, he smiled and wrapped his arms around his small boy. “You helping Josiah?” he asked
“He asked me to. I didn’t bother him,” Ezra said hurriedly, worrying he was about getting into trouble.
“That’s right I did,” Josiah said, winking at Buck and voicing the fact he would take the blame, though he knew there would be none. “And he was a great big help,” he added.
“Glad to hear it, but this helper has school tomorrow and needs a bath,” Buck said, lifting Ezra off the counter and keeping him in arms.
“Say goodnight,” Buck said.
“Goodnight, Mr. Sanchez,” Ezra said.
Rubbing the soft hair, Josiah said, “Goodnight Ezra. See ya tomorrow.”
Buck walked through the living room and stopped. JD looked up and said, “Bedtime, huh?”
“Yep,” Buck replied.
“Goodnight, Ezra,” JD said as he made his way through the pile of videos and trinkets he was packing away. Coming up to his friend and little nephew, JD patted Ezra’s back and said. “You have a goodnight and I’ll see ya tomorrow, okay?”
“Yes, sir. Goodnight, Mr. Dunne,” Ezra said with a smile. He liked the young agent. He was young enough to be cool.
After Ezra’s hurried bath, Buck tucked Ezra into bed and then laid down on the bed. He wasn’t so rushed he didn’t remember that they always read together and since Ezra had a book they needed to read together, that was the book he fetched. Reclining on the bed next to Ezra, he read the simple book, twice. Buck slid down onto the bed and began humming the song Ezra had become accustomed to hearing before going to sleep. Brushing the soft hair away from his son’s forehead, Buck leaned close to Ezra and whispered, “I love you.”
Ezra didn’t return the response and Buck didn’t expect it, but Buck did get a small natural smile as Ezra drifted off to sleep. Buck stayed put for several minutes, listening to the sounds of two friends packing away his life so he could start a new one with the little boy that had completely stolen his heart.
Every night a little more of the belongings disappeared into boxes. The living room began looking like a maze, as all the boxes were stored along the wall. Wednesday night, all the guys came over with their vehicles and loaded what boxes there were and convoyed out to Chris’ to store them in the hayloft. Working in an assembly-type fashion, the chore was soon finished. After it was done they divided up between two trucks and went along the rough path to see the new foundation that was supposed to have been poured that day.
Walking around in the twilight the five men inspected the poured cement. There was almost as much cement, as there was house. It was going to double the size of their living quarters from where it was now. Ezra stood back taking it all in. Every little step forward to moving was just another confirmation that it was really happening.
So far, though, Ezra’s room had left untouched and it bothered the child. Insecurities that Ezra tried to keep buried began rising to the top as doubts flourished. A nagging thought issued forth that maybe Buck wasn’t really taking him with him. That only Buck was moving out here and it would all turn into a cruel joke on him. Ezra only half-heartedly listened as Buck, pacing around the perimeter of the foundation, once again explained where everything was going and missed the part where his own bedroom was going to be. Ezra tried to prepare himself of the eventuality of being left behind. It wouldn’t be the first time.
Buck came by during his walk and scooped the little boy up into arms. “We’re going to have a great house, aren’t we pard?” Buck asked, as he settled Ezra more comfortably in his arms.
Ezra managed a smile and said, “Yes, sir, Mr. Buck.”
Buck had long given up sighing in frustration at not being called Buck. It would happen at Ezra’s pace, when the child felt more secure. Buck hoped that moving into this house would insure that trust.
The men got back into the trucks and went back to the ranch and gathered their own vehicles and headed back to town.
Coming into town Buck spotted a Burger King and asked, “You want to stop for a burger?”
“If you would like, that would be most pleasing to me,” Ezra said, falling back into the old habit of placating the person whom he was living with.
Buck glanced quickly over at Ezra and frowned to himself. Things had been getting better, he had thought. At least Ezra’s speech pattern had decreased from sounding like a talking encyclopedia. Now Buck wondered what had prompted Ezra to return to it.
“Well, I like,” he said as he turned into the parking lot. It was dark by now, but the place was very well lit up.
Buck made the order, picked up the tray and the duo headed for a window seat. Ezra nibbled at his hamburger lost in thought.
“Penny for your thoughts,” Buck said, breaking Ezra revelry.
Ezra startled at the voice and looked at Buck with a blank stare. He was pretty sure he didn’t want to hear the answer to the question that had been plaguing him all evening.
“Spill it,” Buck said in his simplistic way. He didn’t believe in beating around the bush or asking a million questions. For him straightforwardness was the best thing in solving a problem.
Ezra licked his lips. “The belongings in the room I am staying in remains unpacked,” he stated. He wasn’t going to say anymore.
Buck had to repeat the words in his head a couple of times before the meaning became clear. “Yep, but that doesn’t mean we’re leaving them behind. Just wanted you to have access to your things as long as possible before we loaded them up and took them to Chris’, Buck explained and wondered once again how long it was going to take convince the small child everything in that room was his. Buck hated knowing the child was so insecure in the world at the age of five that Ezra believed in himself and everyone else so little.
“Oh,” Ezra said in a surprised tone. He hadn’t thought of that possibility. With him it was all or nothing.
Buck hesitated a moment before delving into another subject. “Remember how we’ve talked about moving in with Chris and Vin?” he asked.
Ezra nodded, “Yes,” he said. Unsure of how he could forget. That had been the main topic of conversation for over a week now.
“You know Vin wants you to share his room?” Buck asked.
Again Ezra nodded, this time more slowly. Perhaps the boy wanted to back out and have his room to himself, he thought.
“I was wondering if that’s what you wanted, too?” Buck asked. They had already gone over this, but Buck wanted Ezra to know he had a choice in the matter as well.
Ezra sat still for a long time. Buck had already asked him more than once if he wanted to share Vin’s room with him. Buck had told him if he didn’t want to, he could stay with Buck in his room. “I think it would be,” Ezra paused for a moment searching for the right word without divulging too much, “most acceptable to share the room with Vin,” he said. He hoped Vin really felt the same way about him. Ezra was beginning to idolize the older boy.
Ezra had adapted to the new school with little difficulty and enjoyed it fro the most part. For having such a chaotic life before hand, Ezra relished the stability that school bought with it. The Friday ended with noise and enthusiasm by the other students. Ezra was less thrilled than the others for major reasons. He had grasped the concept of moving, how could he not have with all the moving his mother had forced him into over the years, but this move was different. This was for him, so Buck kept telling him. A new life, a start over, the guardian had called it. Buck had always made it sound like a good thing, but that was before he overheard the adult’s conversation that Friday night.
After work everyone met up at Buck’s and took a load out to Chris’. Unloading most of it into the barn, the group had then gathered up at the house for supper. Sitting around the table, plans for moving Buck and Ezra out to the ranch the next day were being discussed and finalized. Ezra was sitting next to Vin, playing a cup game that Vin was teaching the younger boy, neither really listening to the boring grownup talk. Ezra was doing his part to keep up with Vin and keep his cup moving back and forth to the other boy when he inadvertently picked up on JD’s comments and ensuing conversation.
“Hey, Buck I used the computer calculations to estimate the cost on the house,” the younger friend said, as he passed the sheet to his older friend.
Buck took the sheet and looked over the prices, JD had calculated.
“So, what’s the damages, Buck?” Josiah laughingly said, watching Buck’s eyes scan down the page.
“According to these figures, we can do it for about five grand,’ Buck replied, thinking that wasn’t bad at all considering all the building that was going to have to be done.
Chris let out a low whistle. You gonna be able to swing it?” Chris asked. He knew that the quoted price was relatively cheap, but it would still take a hunk out of Buck’s savings, nonetheless.
“I was thinking of taking out a loan,” Buck said, still looking at the slip of paper. “At a good rate and paid over long term, I ought to make comfortable payments without stretching the budget too much.”
The men had gone on talking about other things, but Ezra had stopped playing. Intently listening to the adults, old worries came racing to the forefront of his mind. He wasn’t sure how much five grand was, but tit sounded like a lot of money. ‘Maybe, it was too much money. Buck had said he would have to go to the bank’, Ezra’s mind thought as it replayed the conversation over and over. Ezra became quiet and withdrawn. A sign Buck took to be of tiredness. Looking over at Ezra and finding the boy drawn up in his chair staring blankly into space, Buck stood up and announced, “Well, guys tomorrow is going to be a big day. Think me and Ezra will call it a night.”
Buck walked around the table where Ezra was sitting next to Vin. Ruffling the boy’s hair, Buck bought Ezra out of his remorseful thoughts. Ezra startled at the feel of being touched, but settled almost instantly when he noticed it was Buck touching him. “Ready, pal?” Buck asked in a soft voice.
“Yes, sir, Mr. Buck,” Ezra replied, using the table as leverage as he scooted out of his chair and hopped down to the floor.
Buck grabbed Ezra’s jacket and helped the youngster into it and then turned Ezra towards him. Bending down on one knee, Buck finagled the zipper closed and patted the small chest. “Okay, all done. Let’s go,” Buck said with a smile, receiving a half-hearted smile in return.
Standing back up, Buck turned to the small gathering. “See you guys in the morning,” he called out, as he took Ezra’s hand in his and headed toward the door.
Several “goodbyes” were hailed at the duo. Ezra turned and waved with his free hand. “Goodnight,” he said sweetly with a smile, his dimples making for an irritable picture. Good manners were always mandated no matter the situation.
“Goodnight Ezra,” everyone called out.
Once they arrived in the apartment, Buck helped Ezra out of his jacket. “Think it’s time for you to get to bed,” Buck said.
Without a word, Ezra turned and went to his bedroom. Silently he undressed and put on his pajamas. This would be the last night he slept in this room. From now on for a long, long time, he would be sharing a room with Vin. He began wondering if the older boy really wanted to share his room or if Vin was being forced to share. The new thought was added to all the other worries that were cropping up and growing. After he got dressed in his jammies, he went to the living room to find Buck. The stereo and recliner had already been moved out to Chris’. Ezra sighed. He didn’t realize until that moment how much he had grown accustomed to the routine they had established. There would be no sitting in Buck’s lap tonight and reading a book, or listening to the stereo. He stopped his movements and figured there was no reason to go find his guardian; he could put himself to bed.
Buck had been in his bedroom changing his own clothes. He stepped out of his room in time to catch Ezra going back into his room. Buck followed and stopped in the doorway watching Ezra crawl into his bed with a forlorn look on his face. “Hey, pal,” Buck called out as he entered the room. “Wait for me.”
Ezra’s head snapped up at the sound of Buck’s cheerful voice and smiled a true smile. Buck stepped into the room and then stopped. “Wait right here, I’ll be back,” he said before leaving the room.
He reappeared a few minutes later with a portable CD player and headphones. HE stooped down and plugged the CD player into the socket by the bed and then hit the play button. When the first song came on, Buck adjusted the volume of the music coming out of the earphones that had been placed on the nightstand. When Buck was satisfied with everything he hit the pause button and sat down on the bed. Twisting about, he leaned up against the wall at the head of the bed and then motioned for Ezra to crawl up onto his outstretched legs. Once he had the child settled on his lap, Buck pulled the other side of the covers back up on them. Resting his chin on Ezra’s head, Buck said quietly, “Tomorrow is the big day.”
Ezra laid there wrapped in Buck’s arms, feeling the rise and fall of each breath and listening to the faint sound of a heartbeat. “Yes, sir,” he said.
He would not burden MR. Buck with his problems and worries; the man had enough without him adding to them.
“You excited?” Buck asked.
Ezra paused. What was he suppose to say, he wondered. He was and wasn’t. Mostly he was just scared. What if he was being too expensive? What if Mr. Buck didn’t like moving out in the country? What if’s plagued Ezra. The boy felt himself being jostled a little by strong arms and a questioning voice, “Ezra?”
“I was just thinking,” Ezra quickly said. Wishing he could keep his mind on task.
“So are you excited?” Buck asked again, this time his supposed own happiness showing through.
“Yes, sir,” Ezra lied.
“I bet somebody is ready for some sleep,” Buck said softly as he reached over and hit the play button on the CD player and turned out the lamp light.
Sitting there in the dark with the song playing and Buck’s arms wrapped around him, snuggled under his covers, Ezra felt isolated from the tropical storm that had been brewing around him. Here and now, Ezra felt safe and isolated from harm.
The next morning JD was down at the apartment bright and early. Buck had barely risen from his own bed. The guys weren’t due for another hour. While Buck got dressed, JD went into the kitchen and made coffee. Everything, but the coffeemaker had already been boxed. Josiah was bringing donuts for breakfasts and Chris had given Buck some paper cups and plates to eat off.
Ezra smelt the strong smell of coffee and came awake instantly, knowing that meant Buck was up. Getting up, he walked down the hall and through the living room, intent to say his good mornings. He froze outside the kitchen as he listened to Buck and JD’s conversation.
“I’m gonna miss not having you around,” JD was saying. “Sure not going to be the same.”
“Yeah, I’m going to miss being here, too, but it’s the right thing to do. Ezra’s got to have a better school and I can’t live here and accomplish that,” Buck said.
Ezra flew back to his room without making a sound and never heard the rest of the conversation.
Buck continued. “You know it’s funny, JD; I never thought I could love someone so completely, but I’d walk to the ends of the earth for that little boy. He’s everything to me. I’m looking forward to this. I really, really want this. For the both of us,” Buck ended with a smile.
JD smiled. “Yeah, I know. You’re making the right decision. I watch you with Ezra or just look at you watching him and it’s written all over your face how much you love him. You’re making a great dad for him. And I want you to know if you ever need anything; all you got to do is ask,” JD said.
“Thanks,” Buck said. “Speaking of being dad,” pausing as a smile lit up his face at the word, “I got me a kid to wake up and get moved.”
“I’m going to start carrying some of these boxes down while you do that,” JD said, sitting down the styrofoam cup and walking Buck out of the kitchen.
Buck walked down the short hall and came to an abrupt halt outside of Ezra’s opened door, listening to rantings coming from within.
“Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. Your nothing, but stupid, Ezra! You're always making trouble. No wonder your own mother hates you!” Ezra berated himself as he used two of his action figures to play out his emotions.
“See what you have done? Mr. Buck has to move on account of you. You didn’t behave in school and so Mr. Buck had to put you in another school! But he couldn’t put you in one that was right without moving! You are causing him a lot of money! And Mr. Buck has to give up his home and his friends. You. Are. Worthless! Ezra spoke vehemently, as he repeatedly knocked the action hero’s head against the carpet.
Buck hardly recognized he voice saying the words with such force and adamancy, as the same one that belonged to his sweet-natured, if not timid, son. The words and self-hate broke Buck’s heart. How he had missed the loathing the child evidently felt for himself was beyond Buck’s capabilities of understanding?
Buck continued to listen to Ezra’s assault on himself for a minute and then gathered himself up. He may not have been a psychologist, but he knew he had to straighten out some wrongful images the little boy held of himself. He tiptoed a few steps back down the hall and began whistling to alert his son of his coming. The last thing he wanted to do was scare the child.
Buck entered the room with a forced smile and a heavy heart, trying to pretend everything was all right. “Hey, pal. Didn’t know you were up. What are you doing?”
Ezra had changed completely in the four steps it had taken Buck to walk back to the room. Ezra looked up with a sweet smile and said innocently, “Playing.” There was no trace of the anger and self-loathing child that had been there moments before.
Squatting down beside Ezra, Buck asked, “Can I play?’
Ezra was taken aback by the request, not because Buck had never played with him before, because he had, but because Ezra figured the man would be too busy to have time for such frivolous actions today.
Struggling to keep his composure, Ezra nodded his head. “Yes.”
Standing back up, Buck walked over to the low shelves and picked up an action figure for himself. Walking back to the child, Buck lowered himself down onto the floor. Sitting cross-legged, he began using the figure to explain his thoughts and feelings about the recent events, making it all up as he went.
Using the G.I. Joe he held, Buck marched it across the floor to the small figure Ezra held that the boy had used to portray himself moments earlier.
“Hey, there,” Buck said, pitching his voice a little lower than normal. “I’m really excited about today, are you?”
Ezra stared at Buck for a moment before reluctantly playing along. He knew in his heart that Buck was lying. “Yes,” Ezra answered with his own lie.
“I have to admit I’m a little nervous though,” Buck said, moving his action figure from side-to-side to imitate moving.
Ezra was startled into stillness by Buck’s admission. He sat there watching his guardians face and expression with intensity.
Buck tried not to let the little boy’s hard observance distract him. “Yep. I am,” Buck kept going even though Ezra had yet to say a word. “I’m worried Ezra doesn’t like his school or that he won’t like the new house when it’s finished. I want him to be very happy, but I don’t know if he is or not because I feel like he’s holding back on me,” Buck said.
Ezra finally moved his own action figure a little. “Maybe he thinks…” Ezra stalled. They were playing, right? It wasn’t really him talking, but the doll. This was only a game, he told himself. “Maybe he thinks you should change your mind and stay. He could go back to the old school. He could do better and you wouldn’t have to leave your home,” Ezra whispered, refusing to look up into Buck’s eyes.
“Hmmm,” Buck sounded. “But, you know what? I don’t think that would work.” Before Ezra could say anything, Buck continued talking. “See the teachers in Ezra’s old school didn’t understand how special he is. Or how good and smart Ezra is. They didn’t have time to give Ezra all the attention he deserves. Nope, this new school is the place I want him to be at because there his needs will be met,” the big agent said, forgetting about the outside world as he worked to make Ezra understand this was a choice he made free and clear.
“The new house is going to cost lots and lots of money,” Ezra slowly put forth as his voice gradually got above a whisper. “And banks are scandalous at the profit they make on outrageous interest prices.”
Buck paused, temporarily stumped by Ezra’s short speech. He wondered if the kid watched the stock market news on TV or more than likely overheard it from his mother. Buck gathered his thoughts back together and kept playing. “I’m not worried. Being with the federal government I can go the Credit Union and borrow money and everything will be good,” he answered back. “We’ll be just fine.”
“You have to leave you home and JD,” Ezra said, venturing to look up at Buck through his eyelashes.
“Well, yes, but this place has never really been my home. It’s just been a place to eat and sleep. The ranch has been the closest thing to a home for me and that was because that was where Chris has always been and he’s like a brother to me. Now, though, I got something closer than a brother. I got Ezra. And he means everything in the world to me. I could live in a cardboard box and not care as long as Ezra was with me and I’ll still see JD everyday at work and on the weekends,” Buck said.
Ezra made a face and looked at Buck for the first time fully in the face. “Eww. Mr. Buck, a cardboard box would hardly be safe, not to mention clean enough, to live in. That would be worse than living in the shack before it had been free of all that dirt,” Ezra said, with a disgusting look on his face.
“I suppose you’re right,” Buck said with a small, but true, grin.
Then laying down his toys, he broke into a big smile and going on all fours shook his hair in Ezra’s face like a puppy. Ezra couldn’t help but smile at the man’s antics. Buck rose up on his knees and scooped the child into his arms. With Ezra’s back to his chest and his arms securely wrapped around the child, Buck whispered into the small ear. “Whatever comes or wherever we live, I don’t care as long as I got you, Ezra because you’re the best thing that ever happened to me. Don’t you ever forget that!” Buck sat there on his knees with the little boy in his arms, rocking the two of them side-to-side for a long time.
Time slipped passed unnoticed to the pair. Ezra felt like a small part of the weight he had piled upon himself had been lifted off his small shoulders. Buck had said he was good and smart and special. No one had ever said things like that to him before, well except the time Maude told him he had a special gift of helping her make money. He never fully understood what she had meant, but took it to mean he was special to her at that moment.
Both heard the rambunctious entering of their friends and the calls of “Hello’s” and “We’re here!” Buck started to rise up off the floor still holding Ezra tight against his chest. Whispering in the child’s ear, Buck said, “Guess it’s time to get to work.” Buck swiftly gave Ezra a peck on the cheek and lowered him to the floor. Grabbing the small hand in his, he walked out into the living room leading Ezra. “Hey Guys!” he greeted, covering any traces of the turmoil he had just gone through. “Ready to get to work?”
Chris had known Buck Wilmington nigh onto fourteen years. He knew when something was wrong with his friend, even if the others hadn’t caught on. After sending Vin and Ezra into Ezra’s room to play and seeing that the other three men were busy hauling boxes out of the apartment, Chris walked into Buck’s room to find the man packing haphazardly. Shutting the door behind him, Chris walked over to the bed and sat down. “Want to talk about it?” he asked, picking up a shirt and folding it before placing it into a suitcase.
Buck turned form his friend and busied himself with rearranging already packed clothes. “Nothing to talk about,” he said gruffly. Fighting back the emotions that tried to overcome him.
Chris remained quiet for a while and simply packed clothes. Quietly, he said, “Just remember there won’t be a whole lot you go through with Ezra that I probably didn’t go through with Vin. You were there for me and now I’m here for you.”
Buck took a deep breath of air and turned to face his friend. Fighting back tears of sorrow, he said, “It was awful, Chris. The things he was telling himself. You should have heard the incrimination in his voice. It broke my heart at the things he said.”
“Tell me,” Chris said encouragingly.
For the next fifteen minutes the two men sat on the bed and talked. Buck felt such a relief to express his anger at whatever force that had made the five-year-old so hard on himself. Chris talked about his troubles with Vin and shared his thoughts and friendship to the man who had stood by him through everything he had gone through in the fourteen years they’d been friends.
A few minutes later, Buck got up and walked into his private bath to wash his face and get a fresh start. While he was in the other room, JD tapped on the door and poked his head in the bedroom door. He, too, had noticed something was wrong with Buck. Chris looked at him and slightly shook his head. JD understood the message and backed out of the room. Once Buck was back in the room, Chris stood up. “Ready to go out there and take command?” he said jokingly.
It was known fact that when the men were off-duty no one could really command the team of friends. What they did, they did by instinct and still wound up doing the same thing as needed doing. The two men walked out of the room. Buck turned to Chris and said, “I guess it’s time we packed up Ezra’s belongings.”
Chris nodded and the two men walked the short distance to the little boy's room. Surprise was the feeling that both men felt when they entered the small room. Piled in the middle of the floor was newspaper, each sheet separated and scrunched up, it was obvious there was some meaning to it. At that moment, Vin and Ezra were wrapping a board game in three sheets of newspaper.
Buck’s curiosity finally got the better of him as he walked partially into the room and asked, “What are you guys doing?”
Vin looked at him calmly and said, “We’re packing Ezra’s things.”
“Mr. Sanchez said you’re suppose to wrap valuables up in newspaper,” Ezra explained.
“So we wrapped everything up just like you’re suppose to,” Vin continued the explanation.
“I see,” Buck said, fighting the laughter building inside of him. “I’ll be right back,” he added. Turning back around, he noticed Chris had already left the room.
Buck stepped into the hall to find Chris was standing back down the hall by the master bedroom silently laughing. Buck joined him. After a few minutes of laughing, they were found by a confused JD, who went and retrieved Nathan and Josiah came back to find Chris and Buck still laughing. The three men stood in front of the two men with tears of laughter running down their faces. All they could do was thumb in the direction of Ezra’s room. All three men walked down the hall and peeked around the corner. Then walked back down the hall to join the two fathers.
“What are they doing?” Nathan asked intrigued.
Bck wiped his face. “Apparently Ezra took Josiah’s explanation to heart,” the man explained, getting his laughing under control. “He’s wrapped every single item of his up.”
“Oh my,” Josiah said, reeling in the revelation that not only his words, but his actions had such an impact on the small child.
“I guess I ought to be flattered that he thinks so much of his stuff, but it’s gonna take a much bigger box now to get all that newspaper packed,” Buck whispered.
“I’ll find one,” JD volunteered.
A minute later, JD returned with a big box that was going to be used to pack linens in. They would have to improvise later. Buck grabbed the box and headed back down the hall. Walking into the room, the pile had magically grown even bigger. Buck wondered how many sheets the boys were using for each item. “Got a box. Now we need to start filling it up,” Buck said jovially. While Buck ‘helped’ the two boys pack up the items, Chris and Josiah came in and began taking off the bed linens. When Ezra stopped what he was doing and began to intensely watch them, both men had the unnerving feeling to hand the bed clothes over to the three on the floor to be folded, while they carried out the twin size mattress and box springs. Buck was hoping that in the future he could get Ezra a much bigger bed. After the bed set and ensuing frame was dismantled and removed, Josiah and Chris began taking down the small desk and the shelves. The clothes were then removed and packed into the suitcase Ezra had bought with him from the children’s home
It took less than thirty minutes to clear out the child’s room. Buck thought that made a huge commentary on the child’s belongings. No child should be able to pack up their room in less than thirty minutes. With all of them helping, some more than others, the apartment was emptied out and cleaned up before noon. Buck stood in the middle of the empty living quarters one last time. Chris had taken Vin and Ezra downstairs already. As the agent looked around, he let out a sigh. A lot of things had happened since moving in this place. Chris had married and became a father; Sarah and Adam had been killed; Chris had taken on a new role in the ATF; he had been the first one to be asked by Chris to join his friend on his new team, a new family had been formed within the team, they had rescued Vin and expanded the family and lastly they had expanded once again with the addition of Ezra. Buck took one more stroll through the apartment making sure everything would pass inspection with the landlord come Monday. Buck walked out the door, hitting the light switch on his way. Downstairs were his so, family and a new life waiting for him.
Ezra had been to the ranch on several occasions by now, but until today he had never taken serious inventory of the place. When one looked at the house it was reminiscent of what a ranch house looked like, long and spread out, facing the east to watch the sun rise over the mountains that sat in the distance. Stepping up the three steps onto the porch, Ezra took a good look at the place that would be his temporary living arrangements for the next couple of months. Looking out from the porch, Ezra took in the surrounding scenery. Within the homespread area was Chris’ shop; the barn with the attached holding pen; across from the barn on the other side of the dirt road was a larger corral. Like the new house, Chris had cleared off a good parcel of land surrounding his house. Beyond this though, was sparse trees leading to the forest and mountains. The noise of the city was mute out here. Nothing but wildlife existed and Ezra seemed to feel the calmness and serenity the place offered within himself.
Stepping through the door, he walked slowly through the house. As old as the house was, it still retained a faint pine smell. After the small foyer where a little table, with a mirror hanging over it, sat for Chris’s keys, he saw that the living room opened up on his left. Along the same wall as the foyer was Chris’ office. Going into the living room, the room was done in natural tones with soft colored accents. The couch was covered in a light tan fabric with tiny rose buds. Across the back of it lay a woolen blanket that made one think of the blankets used in the old west, made of the same colors with dashes of red. Chris’ recliner was covered in darker chocolate brown leather, the two other recliners that sat on the opposite side of the couch were down in a velour fabric that matched the colors of the rosebuds in the couch. The arrangement made a horseshoe. The centerpiece was a large screen TV. In the corner was a stereo system stored in a tall cabinet.
The living room was separated from the dining room only by the dining table and a small free space. The dining table was made from sanded hewn wood. The corner legs were made from four-by-four posts. At the top of each post on all four sides were carved designs of a saddle; star, like those once worn by the Texas Rangers; horse’s heads and horseshoes. The matching chairs were high backs with one of the same matching designs engraved at the top of backrest. Ezra thought the set looked like it belonged on one of the old time western shows he’d seen in rerun on TV.
From the living room, one could walk to hallway that led to all the rooms; or go into the kitchen. In the kitchen there was a small table with white Formica covering with spattering of gold. The long countertop went three fourths of the way down the back wall, the oven and stove built on the west end. There was a door leading out onto the porch. There was also a small doorway next to the oven that led into the laundry/washroom. In here there was also a door leading outside. This was used especially on wet days. The linoleum hadn’t seen it’s original shiny white color since the day it was installed.
Back in the living room, Ezra traveled to the hallway. The master bedroom laid off to the right at the end of the hall. It had it’s own bathroom. After forming the team and it became obvious to Chris that the men were going to be spending most of their off time out at his place, he had finished off some of the rooms that had been left untouched when the house had first been built. There were three other rooms in the hall. Vin’s was the first one. Buck and JD had shared the next one and Nathan and Josiah had shared the last one, it had a personal bathroom. There was also a bathroom in the hall across from the middle room. Paintings of cowboys, mountain scenes and wildlife were strategically placed throughout the house.
Ezra stood in the doorway of Vin’s room, who was off somewhere with JD, Josiah and Nathan. The five-year-old watched in silence as Buck and Chris reassembled the small twin bed. Ezra noticed that Vin’s room had been reorganized to make room for the extra bed. The little boy’s stomach began doing flip-flops as realization actually settled in that he would be sharing a room with the seven-year-old. Before this moment it had been all talk, now it was actually happening.
Bck looked up and spotted Ezra standing there. “Hey, kiddo. So what do ya think?” he asked, spreading his arms open wide to encompass the room.
Ezra swallowed hard. “I like it,” he answered. Turning his attention towards Chris, he said. “Thank you and Vin for letting us stay with you. I do hope we are not an inconvience,” he spoke, the word conveying how serious he was.
Chris shook his head and wondered if he would ever get used to the way the boy sounded like he was parroting some grownups information that had been drilled into the child’s head.
“It’s no problem, Ezra. We’re happy to have you and Buck here,” Chris said. Patting Buck on the back and giving him a look that said, ‘Boy, do you have your hands full’. Chris left the room, squeezing by Ezra on the way out.
“So you like it?” Buck asked with a smile.
Ezra entered the room. “Yes, Mr. Buck, I do like it,” he said in fashion that resembled one trying to pacify another.
“Now we haven’t got it all done. We’ll get your shelves up and unload all your stuff tomorrow, but for tonight I think we’re set,” Buck explained as he sat down on the freshly made bed and looked Ezra in the eye.
“That will fine. I do not wish to be a bother,” Ezra said.
Buck gritted his teeth for a second. “You’re not a bother,” he said rather sternly.
Buck could see a dispute coming and changed topics. “Come on, I think the guys should be finished by now and Chris had probably already started the grill up,” the man said as he rose off the bed. Placing his hands down on the thin shoulders, he guided Ezra out of the room and outside.
The guys had a good diner out under the fading light and watched as the stars came out. Several of them pointed out the different constellations as they appeared. It wasn’t look though before yawns and stretches began to become numerous and adieus were being said.
Ezra felt his stomach tighten again as he followed, Chris, Buck and Vin into the house. He had no doubt that his nightly routine would be dissolved of. The sadness of it surprised him, but he kept it hidden. Buck’s voice bought him out of his dark thoughts.
“Come on, Ezra, bath time,” his guardian called to him form the hall.
Ezra followed him down the hall to the main bathroom. Once inside, he was surprised to see a bucket containing his small bath bottles sitting by the tub. Buck caught the small smile of relief on Ezra’s face and explained. “We’re going to keep them under the sink, so they’ll be out of sight during the day. Okay?” Buck asked.
“Okay,” Ezra said. Relieved that no one would find out he played with such immature things as bottles in the tub. After his bath and Buck opened the door to put the bucket inside, Ezra noticed a small hospital tub filled with other types of toys. Buck saw the puzzled look and said, “Those are Vin’s, but we’ll keep ours separated.”
Ezra was shocked that someone as old and mature as Vin would play with such items. On the other hand, he was a bit happy. If someone like Vin could still play with bath toys then certainly it wouldn’t hurt that he did, as well.
After he stepped out of the bathroom, Ezra felt the heaviness return. Now it was bedtime and he wondered if Buck would expect him to tuck himself in. Again relief was felt when Buck led him into the living room where Vin and Chris were sitting.
“Well guys, Ezra and I are going to call it a night,” Buck called from where he had stopped part way into the living room.
Chris looked up and said, “Goodnight, Ezra. See you in the morning.”
“Goodnight Mr. Larabee and thank you again for allowing us to stay with you,” Ezra said.
Chris merely nodded.
Vin turned around from his position on the couch and now hung over the back. “’Nite, Ezra,” he called with a grin.
“Goodnight, Vin. I appreciate you sharing your room with me,” Ezra said graciously.
“No prob. We’re going to have fun,” Vin replied.
Buck led Ezra back into the hall, but not into his new room, but down to the next one where Buck was going to be staying. When they walked in, Ezra noticed there was Buck’s recliner sitting between the two beds.
Buck led them to the chair and sat down. Taking Ezra up onto his lap, he said, “This is going to my room, you that, right?”
Ezra nodded tiredly. He was feeling better at the thought that not everything was going to change.
“You ever need me all you got to do is come in. Just like at the apartment. New place, same rules,” Buck said.
Lying on the bed next to them was the portable CD player with earphones. Buck hit the play button and their music began filtering out through he earphones. Ezra felt his body relax even further. It was definitely good to know not everything was going to change.
Buck watched the tense features that had grew throughout the day release and the baby fine features he had become accustom to seeing reappear. He sat for along time stroking his baby’s hair and watching the small chest develop the rhythmically slow cadence that told him Ezra had slipped into a deep sleep. Once he was positive Ezra was asleep, he rose, tightening his sold on his son and walked into the boys’ room. Laying Ezra down in his own bed, the boy automatically curled up into a ball. Buck pulled the covers up and leaned over and placed a gently kiss on Ezra’s hair. “Love you,” he whispered, before turning around and walking out the door. Stopping in the doorway, he turned around for one last look at the sleeping child for the night and smiled.